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Effective problem-solving in a crisis


Photo Credit: BartekAmbrozik

Crisis. What comes to mind when you hear this term? Do you think of natural disasters such as hurricanes, national health concerns like the Ebola virus, personal struggles such as a divorce or failed relationship, or perhaps something less dramatic but still emotionally draining such as failed expectations or loss of a good job. Whatever the stressor (a situation that outweighs your ability to cope with it), a crisis can be any of the above situations and be long-term or short-term.  Continue Reading »

When your child is 302’d: What Should You Know?


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Involuntary commitment. What comes to mind when you hear this word? Chaos and confusion? Fear and pandemonium? Loss and grief? For many parents, having to commit your child to a hospital against their will is something that doesn’t fit into the schema of adults. The thought, the action is unfathomable. How could a child, someone who is barely familiar with the operations of life, be so out of control that a hospital would have to be contacted for help? The experience is heart wrenching for many loving and caring families. Continue Reading »

Eating Disorders: When Eating Becomes A Prison


Photo credit: SlawekLukjanow

Do you know someone with an eating disorder? Do you know what it is? Trying to support a loved one or friend who sticks her finger down her throat to purge the food she just ate, strips you of your ability to reason and make sense out of life. Observing a loved one or friend refusing food out of a strong fear of gaining weight to the point of starvation, changes everything you thought you ever knew. For a therapist who works with eating disorders (or any mental health problem for that matter), the situation can bring you to a point of desperate seeking for understanding. Continue Reading »

Parenting: It’s quite complicated!


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Being the parent of a child has to be one of the most difficult jobs in the world. The only thing lacking from a parent child relationship is payroll. A child has so many needs, desires, and milestones to achieve in life. It’s the parent who bears the burden until the child becomes mature enough to seek out their own wishes in this life. But despite the challenges that come with parenting, it is also perhaps one of the most rewarding (most of the time) jobs in the world.  Continue Reading »

6 Tips On How To Deal With A Liar


Brian Lary

Have you ever communicated with a person who seemed to live in a fantasy world where everything said “felt” false? What about having an experience with a person who always seems mysterious and nothing they say ever comes to fusion? Well…if so, you might have been dealing with a sociopath or even a pathological liar. Continue Reading »

Characteristics of the stalker: Know what to look for

stalkerWhen you think of the word stalker what comes to mind? Do you think violence and vengefulness? Do you think fear on the part of the stalker? Do you think about the stalker’s lack of communication skills or even mental health problem(s)? Many people would agree that the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the word stalker is violence and vengefulness. Only a rare number of people would consider a stalker fearful and lacking in social skills. But many “sweet boys next door” can become a stalker for many reasons. Two reasons include mental health problems and lack of social skills.

One of the things we rarely discuss on this site are the characteristics of a stalker. But it’s important to understand that they too struggle with mental health or personality disorders that motivates this problematic behavior. Believe it or not, many stalkers, due to mental health or personality disorders, are impaired and lack the ability to reason and engage appropriately with others. For the most part, individuals who would be labeled a stalker often suffer from a lack of social skills and finds communicating with others challenging. For the most part, men are the stalkers, but women can also become stalkers as well. About 80% of women are victims of stalkers.

According to Marshall University’s Women Center, characteristics of the stalker can fall into 5 categories:

  1. Relationship: These stalkers tend to stalk previous partners and desire a relationship with the person. In some cases, the stalker in this category may desire a relationship with an acquaintance. Individuals who fit the stalker description and has had negative relationships in the past, often meet criteria for a personality disorder such as narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder or sociopathy (i.e., a sociopath), or dependent personality disorder.


  1. Obsessed: This type of individual constantly thinks about the person they idolize. They might create a “mental life” involving the person and have a hard time imagining life without the person. You may have heard of the term erotomania which describes a delusion in which the person believes that someone, usually of a higher social status (celebrity, powerful person, etc.) is in love with him or her. It is likely that someone suffering from schizophrenia may fall prey to the erotomanic delusion.


  1. Rejected: Many stalkers have a history of challenging relationships and difficulty communicating with others. Some stalkers, especially if female, may meet criteria for borderline personality disorder in which rejection is often very difficult to cope with. This does not, however, describe all individuals with borderline personality disorder. However, it is likely that some individuals with this diagnosis could become a stalker due to a history of stormy relationships, roller coaster emotions, and unstable love affairs.


  1. Intelligent: Marshall University claims that stalkers are intelligent and carefully plan their stalking behavior. Someone who falls into this category could meet criteria for sociopathy. Sociopaths are adept at planning their “attack” and controlling others with charm or glib.


  1. Motivated: Most stalkers believe that their object of desire is the only person they could ever love and tend to be motivated to pursue based on this type of thinking.


There are also common personality characteristics of the stalker that are important to understand. These include:

  1. Narcissistic behaviors
  2. Selfishness
  3. History of domestic violence
  4. Inability to cope with rejection
  5. Obsessive, controlling, and compulsive
  6. Impulsivity
  7. Suffering from delusions or a severe mental illness that interferes with perception of reality
  8. Jealousy
  9. Manipulative behaviors
  10. Sexually maladaptive behaviors
  11. Deceptiveness
  12. Socially awkward, uncomfortable, or isolated
  13. Has a history of falling in love instantly
  14. Depends on others for a sense of self-worth
  15. Low self-esteem
  16. Tempermentalness


Can you think of any characteristics that might fit a stalker?

It is important to keep in mind that stalkers are not always individuals who are suffering from mental health or personality disorders, but that the possibility is very high. Most stalkers fit the criteria of sociopaths and narcissists. They are charmers, they have a way with words (although their words are often shallow and insincere), and they sometimes have a sex appeal or attractiveness that blinds victims to their true intent. The difficulty lies in trying to determine if someone is a stalker and if so, what type of stalker they are.

As always, stay informed!



Marshall University. (2014). Stalking. Women’s Center. Retrieved August 31, 2014, from http://www.marshall.edu/wcenter/stalking/.

Photo credit: sean carpenter


Avoiding an emotional hangover: What to do when you’re fed up


Emotion (Photo credit: rexquisite)

Have you ever noticed your emotions the day after a very stressful day running errands, meeting people, supporting family or friends, working, and meeting deadlines? Have you awakened wondering if you could have done something better the day before? Perhaps you could have spoken more friendly to someone or have greater patience with someone.

Continue Reading »


Speaking out about mental health changes lives

heartA few months ago I discussed making Personal Stories Week a yearly endeavor with a former colleague and one thing she said stood out to me: “people enjoy hearing and sharing good stories.” While I didn’t agree with her nonchalant stance on true stories of struggle with mental illness, she is right. Stories have a way of not only changing our perspective about events in life, but also inspiring, developing, and even changing our behavior.  In most cases, these “good” stories come through social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, MySpace, and other channels. We have become such a social-media driven society that most people don’t share their deepest hurts in person anymore. Most people turn to social media to inspire or educate others. 

We turned – Kathy Brandt, Dr. Russ Morfitt, Melanie Jimenez, and Sharon Page – to social media. It was a great experience and I hope the families and I can bring you more insightful stories.

To revisit many of the beautiful stories from the past week, click on the links below:

Learning from personal experience

A mother faces her son’s bipolar diagnosis

A mother and her son’s struggle with schizophrenia

Protecting yourself from unethical mental health settings

Personal stories week: A journey after suicide 

Personal Stories Week: Dr. Russell Morfitt discusses online counseling for anxiety

Accepting schizoaffective disorder: A mother’s most difficult challenge

The End and Thank You


Personal Stories Week – August 18-24

son and mother

It’s that time of year again when I collaborate with a group of readers, writers, parents, twitter followers, friends, and colleagues to discuss, during 1 entire week on blogs.psychcentral.com/caregivers (PsychCentral), their experiences with mental illness or other mental health challenges. Their experiences could be personal or professional and focus on challenges, miracles, systemic difficulties, financial strain, failures of the system, and many more issues that parents, families, friends, caregivers, and professionals have experienced. Come join us.

Continue Reading »

Change Is The Hardest Thing Ever

moving forwardChange. It’s a simple word but it can mean so many things to the person experiencing the change. I’ve had many changes in my personal life, changes that were both good and bad. Some change is on time and other changes come at the wrong time. Still, other changes are the result of your desire to change something, while other changes are not.  Continue Reading »

Fear, Uncertainty, and Discouragement: A condition of human existence

Belovodchenko AntonHow many of you rely on your faith for strength and courage as a caregiver, as an individual living in this stressful world, or as someone suffering from a mental health condition? For many people, their faith is the only thing they have to hold onto.

Continue Reading »

National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

national minority mental health awareness month
Did you know that July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month? If not, you’re not alone. Sadly this month is often overlooked by the majority of Americans. It is a time when summer has bloomed, fireworks have entered the scene, and multiple summer parties and cook-outs are in full swing. It comes at a time of the year when so many people are outdoors, enjoying the summer time weather and penetrating sun. This lack of awareness, however, not only affects minorities struggling with mental health problems, but our society at large.


There are multiple things we need to do to bring greater awareness to minority mental health:

  1. Build awareness
  2. Remember services are difficult to locate
  3. Remind clinicians and mental health professionals to be culturally competent
  4. Understand that:
    • Many cultures lack knowledge about mental illness or see it as taboo
    • Lack support from their own culture to seek services
    • Do not trust opposite cultures helping them
    • Struggle with gender bias

Read more here or check into this great research article published on the topic.


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Can you spot a pathological liar?

Think back to an age at which you told the most lies or “fibs?” Were you 4, 5, 8, or 10? Why did you tell the lie? Were you trying to get something in return, manipulate a situation in your favor, or avoid hurting someone’s feelings? If so, you are like the majority of us who curtail the truth in order to make things less stressful or negative for us. Curtailing the truth happens a lot, even in the lives of adults. Continue Reading »


Alex Hribal: A puzzle for professionals everywhere

Alex HribalDo you remember my article published on Alex Hribal, a 16-year old who stabbed 20 high school students and an adult in the Franklin Regional High School of a quiet suburb in Pennsylvania? The article was titled: Parental Responsibility in Tragedy through my sister-site Psychcentral/caregivers. The article focused on a very controversial topic which involves parents being held liable for the dangerous, violent, and careless behaviors of their children or a child whom they know struggles with behavioral or mental health challenges. Parents are held liable for cases such as Alex Hribal’s in many states. The difficulty is in proving negligence and arriving at a settlement for the “damages,” and in many case, lives lost.  Continue Reading »

The Overworked Mental Health Professional

Andrew RichardsEach week I see myself mentally, physically, and emotionally deteriorating (in inches) every time I encounter a new client, a new situation, a new challenge, a new mystery. It’s part for the course as a helping professional. No one will escape the fatigue. The field of psychiatry and the profession of mental health is both an emotionally and mentally stressful job. It only works best when the people involved have been “called” to do such a work. It is only then that the job will get done correctly, promptly, and with care. It is when the field incorporates people who either have lost motivation to care or simply don’t care, that the profession deteriorates more and more.  Continue Reading »

A long string of violent acts – A cry for help or criminal behavior?

What do you think of this paragraph?

She had reason to worry. When her son showed up at her Queens home in May 2009, he beat her, striking her in her face multiple times, and then wrapped an electrical cord around her neck. “Mom, I am going to kill you,” he said, according to court records.

When she passed out, he stole her 2002 Toyota Corolla and fled.

Read more about this tragic situation involving mental illness and criminal behavior, a dilemma many of us (mental health professionals) have trouble connecting and understanding.

Photo credit: Victor J. Blue for The New York Times


Mental Health In A Failed American System

Available April 22Base-book cover 2 -altered!

Is the mental health system making you feel all alone, lost, confused, and angry? If so, you are not alone. A therapist shares her experiences and insights about the system with multiple stories and resources for parents, families, and caregivers. She also offers a bonus chapter on bullying prevention and resources parents, families, and caregivers can pursue to protect their child with special needs.

Barnes & Noble





10 Cognitive Distortions That Keep Us Bound

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday I spoke with a good friend from graduate school about recent changes in her life. No matter how positive some parts of the change was, she found some way to think of the negative. We began to review what we had learned in school about “cognitive distortions.” We found that the both of us engage in some of these depending on the situation. Are you guilty too?

There are multiple types of cognitive distortions, but the 10 most common include:

  1. All or nothing/ black or white thinking: This type of thinking is “my way or the highway.”
  2. Should statements: “I should always be first,” “I should never take 2wks vacation.”
  3. Magnification/minimization: You exaggerate certain events or the negative and minimize (the “I don’t care” attitude) a situation.
  4. Over-generalization: You view a single situation (positive or negative) as never-ending, something that could happen again.
  5. Mental Filtering: You dwell on a single negative occurrence and focus in on it like a target. You can’t get your mind on other things. “Did you see how she looked at me!!!!”
  6. Labeling or mis-labeling: Instead of describing the situation for what it is (e.g., you filed your taxes too late), you begin to see yourself as the problem (“I’m so stupid, why can’t I ever do this earlier”).
  7. Emotional reasoning: You feel that your negative emotions reflect the truth, not error.
  8. Jumping to conclusions: You immediately believe the worst without first considering all the facts of the situation.
    • Mind reading: “I know she thinks I’m crazy because of how I look today.” Have you ever said this? Mind reading occurs when you think you know what someone is thinking about you without you checking the facts
    • Fortune Teller: You feel that something negative will happen without considering that perhaps something positive may happen.
  9. Personalization: You see yourself as being the reason for negative events.
  10. Disqualifying the positive: You point out all the negative facts without looking at the positive. You miss your beautiful daughter in her wedding gown because you just can’t get over her new mother-in-law.

As always, I wish you the best

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Shopping Around in the Mental Health System

Svilen MilevWhen I go grocery shopping, I rarely stop at one store to buy all of my items. I often “cherry pick” by getting all meat from one store, my fresh produce at another, and then my dry goods at another. By the end of the week, I’ve been to about 3 stores total. Can you relate? Sadly, many families within the mental health system must act in the exact same way. 

The mental health system seems to be one of the most complex systems in the world. There is always something getting in the way of proper treatment such as policies, state laws, high turnover which leads to reduced number of staff, high costs, little to no insurance coverage, etc. Families today are up against the biggest beast in our modern day society. Despite high numbers of severe mental health need (7.7 million suffer adults and 20% of children and teens suffer from severe mental illness), we have multiple problems within our system that often include incompetent or uncaring workers who waste the time of families in need. As a therapist, I see these things almost daily.

There are 7 types of workers, I have encountered, that all individuals should look out for:

1. The lazy worker: This type of mental health professional refuses to go far and beyond their duties at work. If it is after hours, they will not help you. If helping you means contacting outside agencies, researching a problem, or discussing something with you, this person will avoid it at all costs. They might even shift the responsibility to the client or family of the client. You may not feel helped or cared for by this person. They are incompetent, disinterested in truly helping, and may only be in the profession for recognition, personal identity, pay, or prestige. Some people thrive off of having a hand in telling others what to do or having some effect on their lives. Those who enjoy making a difference are different because they are truly interested in helping. But the “lazy worker” will do nothing, but want to be recognized.

2. The “for show” worker: This person is like the lazy worker, but might do more work for the purpose of being recognized. This person is constantly in competition with co-workers and will often appear genuinely interested during the initial phase of treatment. This person is selfish and hopes to find an identity by working in the field.

3. The “professional” worker: This person is so very professional and loves to dress the part, act the part, sound the part, and fantasize by getting overly involved in the lives of others. This person is so consumed with themselves that no one can crack the phony fasade. This person is basically a narcissist.

4. The “let me check” worker: This person is like the lazy worker, but constantly has to double check facts (even basic facts) because they are rarely tuned in to their job. This person knows very little and seems to lack a breadth of knowledge necessary for the duties of the job. Therapists like this are constantly unsure about their position or how to help. They need others to guide them before they can guide others. There is very little to no creativity with this person. A person like this might also lack life experience. Beginning therapists usually fit this profile.

5. The “actor” worker: This person is very much like the “professional” worker but seems to recite what others have said or done. This person is an imitator and lacks originality. Dressing, speech, behavior, activities, suggestions, or advice might be echoed from someone this person idealizes such as a boss, senior worker, or historic figure. Tone of voice, attitude, or dressing might change to reflect the characteristics of the idealized person. I would go so far as to suggest a sociopathic personality.

6. The “ingenuine” worker: This person is very ingenuine and doesn’t really care about the emotional needs of the client seeking help or the client’s family. This person is highly engulfed in his/her own life, but believes their personal experience will make them a good therapist. This person usually lacks true compassion, but is the first to believe that they have skill (because of personal experience) to help others.

7. The “social justice” worker: This particular person is very conscious of social justice issues and seeks any opportunity to bring up the topic of sexism, racism, ageism, etc. to explain away personal difficulties or challenges the client may face. For example, a woman may say that she feels undermined by other females at work. The “social justice” worker may view this as an attack due to age, gender, or race. Of course, this is something that happens all the time, but we cannot explain away ALL situations using this perspective.

Believe it or not, the field entails many of these individuals including a host of other personalities. It is important to keep in mind that not all mental health professionals or therapists exhibit these traits in negative ways, but many do. The thing to watch out for is how rigid the person is and whether or not they truly care for you or your loved one. “Shopping around” in the mental health system is important because every therapist is different, every therapist is trained differently, and every therapist has experienced life differently. No one is the same. “shopping around” allows you to find a therapist who truly has you or your loved one’s best interest at heart, truly wants to fight for the rights of her/his clients, and demonstrates a consistent character over time. If you recognize an inconsistent personality that seems overbearing and unauthentic, run!

I wish you the best

Photo credit: Svilen Milev

The history of medicine – have we progressed?

Chris HolderWilliam Halsted and Sigmund Freud were two “scientists” who went down trying to crack the mystery of substance abuse use (Freud) and searching for the strongest numbing agent for surgical procedures (Halsted). Their nightmare was characterized by strong addictions, medical complications, and extreme health problems. Even more, their substance abuse addiction not only revealed their deep emotional and psychological needs, but the potential vulnerabilities of scientists in the world and the problems often associated with doctors who have access to prescription drugs. Watch the video to find out more and visit: http://halstedthedocumentary.org/.

Self-medication: Why doctors use prescription drugs

Doctors with substance abuse issues


Photo credit: Chris Holder

9 Troubling revisions of the DSM

Raphael Pinto9 Troublingrevisions of the DSM




Photo credit: Raphael Pinto

Would you know what to expect in a mental health evaluation?

Would you know what to expect in a mental health evaluation?

Hidden (300x200)A mental health assessment is often the very first step toward seeking mental health services. For youngsters, mental health assessments are more involved because parents, schools, and other people of importance are often included such as other doctors, speech therapists, etc. For adults, the process may be a bit less detailed and shorter in time. Find out what else happens in a mental health assessment by clicking above.


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Understanding Psychological Abuse

David Garzon

Few studies focus on psychological abuse as much as they do emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. But by no means does this mean that psychological abuse is less detrimental.

Understanding psychological abuse


Photo credit: David Garzon

Youths in crisis: what are we doing wrong? (Video)

Gabriella Fabbri 2This is something I deal with daily in my work with youngsters. Many days it feels like we’re all doing everything wrong. Other days, are quite different. But where are we going to intervene and how? This is something we rarely discuss for fear of backlash from anti-stigma players, parents, families, and others too afraid to grapple with reality.

What are your thoughts about this continual and possibly worsening condition? It’s about time we find out.

Photo credit: Gabriella Fabbri

Without him who would we be? Celebrate his legacy today!


A gift from God, a hope for the future, direction for our souls, and peace for our hearts. He embodied it all.

Do you know Phineas Gage?

brainDo you know Phineas Gage?

Phineas Gage suffered a terrible tragedy that led neuroscientists to research the effects of trauma on the brain, emotions, and behavior. Find out what happened to Mr. Gage. You can read the article and watch the video:

Photo credit: Hidden

5 Benefits of Group Therapy

Joined Hands5 Benefits of Group Therapy

Group therapy is often disapproved of and shunned as a nuisance. But I believe, although I am not a big fan of it, that group therapy has 5 important benefits for both teens and adults. Find out what those benefits are.

Photo credit: Julia Freeman-Woolpert

5 Reasons why Behavior Therapy is a Good Choice for Teens

5 Reasons why Behavior Therapy is a Good Choice for Teens

Behavior therapy is a good choice for kids/teens with behavior problems. Find out why I say so.

Need help getting psychologically prepared for the New Year?

Radoslava TodorovaNeed help getting psychologically prepared for the New Year?

The New Year is always met with resistance because it means change. Some change is good, some is bad. For many of us, we will enter the new year with debt, new worries, insurance woes, reduced benefits, and some of the same challenges faced in 2013. Anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts are common. Find out what I believe can help you or someone you know cope better.

Photo credit: Radoslava Todorova

Failing to Bring Awareness to Mental Health in the Workplace

WorkplaceThis presentation was presented at the Pittsburgh Carnegie Library, Business and Technology Series event December 19. This presentation discusses the problems associated with corporations, organizations, and other businesses in failing to bring awareness to the existence of mental health. This presentation also touches upon the inability of employees to seek mental health care without fearing loss of employment, loss of confidentiality, or stigma.
Most employees have legal or federal rights to protect their mental health information from employers, but there are exceptions to this rule. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996), which supposedly protects all mental and medical health information from being exposed, is briefly discussed.

Welcome To Anchored-In-Knowledge!

144x200I’m so glad you have decided to visit this site!

Anchored-In-Knowledge was designed specifically for parents, families, and caregivers of individuals with mental health conditions. To find out how to navigate through this site, click here for my “Getting started” page.

This site is “family-friendly” for individuals seeking easily accessible and practical information. For daily updates, follow me on Twitter! For various topics relating to mental health, try my site at Mentalhealth.answers.com.

I hope you will find this site a resource

A Reminder: True Meaning During Christmas Time


Hello there!
I wanted to personally send my best wishes for a wonderful holiday season. This time of year is a wonderful time because it allows us to think over the accomplishments of the year, remember people we love, give gifts from the heart, and move forward into the new year. I love Christmas. It is not only a time for family, gifts, and love, but reflecting on our purpose, our divine purpose.
What has your journey been and what will it be? I find myself asking this question a lot, but more during this time of the year. What accomplishments (that are not materialistic) do I want to make in the coming year? These questions are introspective and very significant. Meaning emanates from these questions and has a way of forming new meaning for the coming year.

For some people, like my mother, thinking that far ahead is difficult. You’ll figure it out when you get there! I get you, that’s all well and good. :)

But then, there are those who are suffering during this time with missing a loved one, missing someone deceased, or wishing they had the romance and love that Christmas commercialism demonstrates through commercials and music. Sadly, Christmas time isn’t always a joyous time for everyone. If you are someone or know someone who has lost a loved one, know that you are not alone. I lost my dearest cousin 5 days before Christmas in a very tragic way last year. It is something I push to the back of my mind in order to cope. As a family, we will never forget it. So I flood myself with the beauty of the season and I try to remain as realistic as possible. Getting swept up in commercialism, only makes matters worse.

I just spoke with a Twitter follower via email who lost his son during this time to suicide. His son took his life 3 days before Christmas. Instead of wrapping gifts, spending quality time with family, and enjoying the festivities, he was contemplating ending it all. The way this man and his family copes is by staying very close, engaging in family time, and remembering their son. Sometimes attempting to push reality away only makes it worse.

Other people are saddened by the fact that they do not have a child to wrap gifts for, a husband to wake up to, or a family to visit on Christmas Day. Just know that we are all struggling with something around this time and that sometimes the best way to cope with sorrow is by reaching out to others. Having a sense of gratitude also helps.

Remember the homeless, remember those struggling with depression or other mental health conditions, and remember those who may need your smile and love today.

All the best to you in the new year!
Merry Christmas




5 benefits to home-education for kids with behavioral problems

5 benefits to home-education for kids with behavioral problems

Home-schooling was a life saver for me and for many other kids as well. While there are some good hearted teachers, there are also some teachers who are very unlikely to motivate a child to succeed. Most kids today struggle with school for a variety of reasons including but not limited to:

  • Mental health problems (delusions, hallucinations, depression, phobias)
  • Behavioral health problems (ADHD, oppositional behaviors, impulsivity, inattention)
  • Medical conditions (concussions, migraines, nausea, dizziness, asthma)
  • Bullying (cyber, physical, social, verbal)
  • Self-fulfilling prophecies (when a superior such as a teacher views a student negatively, which the student can detect. A student who detects negative vibes from a superior is likely to believe the negative vibes are true and fail).

Children and teens are in a very tough lifetime and it’s best to consider ways to help make life more convenient for them. Who doesn’t appreciate convenience? Learning is about learning only, not negative vibes from a teacher, peer pressure, bullying, socializing, substance abuse, etc.

For 5 benefits to home-schooling your child or teen, read my article at mentalhealth.answers.com!


A Balanced View: Having a baby with severe mental illness

Acelya AksunkurAn article was published a few weeks ago and circulated by http://www.rethinkmentalillness.org. The question that was posed was “am I crazy for wanting a baby with schizophrenia?” Many responded with both positive and negative replies, but many were imbalanced. Imbalanced information in the field of mental health is not a shocker. Imbalanced information circulates throughout the system all of the time. This is not new news. But I’d like to offer a balanced perspective to this story.

Firstly, having children is a very complicated matter and many things can go wrong with health. Although I am not a mother (yet!), working with children of all ages (5-22) has afforded me an inside look at the multiple challenges involved in child-rearing. Infants can be complicated little creatures, although so very cute! They can develop health and mental health problems, developmental challenges, or have very touch temperaments. Some kids are overly hyperactive, don’t catch on in school fast enough for teachers or parents, struggle with adjustment issues, suffer from separation anxiety, struggle with parental problems such as divorces or unstable relationships, and other kids just struggle with peer pressure, following authority, or getting good grades. Most kids are sweet, loving, beautiful little people. I love them! But there is a reality that we all fail to look at. We fail to look at the fact that these cute little people will one day grow up!

What are the down sides?

When kids grow up, we see they are susceptible to a host of issues that adults are and some kids end up growing up with substance abuse problems, severe depression, having suicidal thoughts, and other issues. The question for any parent should always be “are you ready to deal with whatever might result in this child’s life?” The next question for all parents should be “are you emotionally ready for their challenges?” Not all kids have challenges but for those that do, strong parents are needed.

On the flip side of this, children are often highly affected by the emotional stability or instability of their parents. If a parent is not stable enough to raise a child, that child can grow to have many emotional and psychological needs. Some kids go straight into substance abuse, while other kids end up delinquent. This, of course, is not the fate of ALL kids, but this reality does exist in many areas.

What are the positives?

Some parents have children and everything turns out okay. The fact that one has a severe mental health condition does not automatically dis-qualify them from having children. But there are things to consider before taking that leap. I have worked with children who are being raised by parents who suffer from depression, have felt suicidal in their past, or experience anxiety at intense levels. Some parents even struggle with mild cases of autism, mental retardation (or intellectual disabilities), and other conditions. Having loving, strong, dedicated, and supportive parents  has a way of trumping anything that could negatively affect a child in most cases. But there are a small number of cases that barely survive the emotional and psychological “trauma” of a parent. As a result, there are a few questions all parents struggling with mental health conditions should ask themselves.

The most important questions to ask a parent struggling with severe mental illness are:

  • “Are you stabilized enough to have a child?”
  • “How long will that stability last and what is the history of stabilization?”
  • “Will medications taken affect the developing baby?”
  • “Can you cope with the possibility of postpartum depression?”
  • “Do you know or understand the genetic heritability of the disease?”
  • “Are you prepared for dealing with the possibility of your child inheriting the disease?”
  • “Do you have a support system?”

Take away

We have to be careful not to pre-prejudge a mother suffering from a severe mental health condition. But it is important to consider the pros and cons and evaluate whether having a child is in the best interest of the unborn child.

To read the article about this dilemma, visit Mail Online.

Photo credit: Acelya Aksunkur

Book: Mental Health In A Failed American System

Base-book cover 2 -altered Get the e-Nook book on Barnesandnoble.com now! Looking for the paperback version? Released April 22, 2014!

Book Description

Families of an individual with a mental health diagnosis or special need are often the most frustrated and powerless among us. These individuals experience a host of fears and have concerns regarding diagnoses, what to expect, and how to secure financial support to cover costs. Mental Health In A Failed American System is a step-by-step personal guide that will offer the type of “companionship” parents, families, and caregivers need to develop knowledge about the mental health system. This brief guide highlights problems such as politics, universal lack of knowledge, and fear of stigma that contribute to poor policies, systemic barriers, and lack of resources. Millions of families identify with feeling alone, uninformed, and confused about the future.
Hill cautions all families to dedicate themselves to developing independence and empowerment through self-knowledge. She explains that self-knowledge is not simple rote memorization, but the objective investigation and comparing of information. She guides families to multiple resources and encourages in-depth evaluation of the field itself. Hill discusses the challenges inherent in the mental health system such as political control, ineffective science, and inadequate treatment protocols, state laws, and diagnostic measures. Carefully charting the continuing problems of mental health including the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, she evaluates widespread problems that are becoming burdens to society.

Bonus chapter: Legally protecting children with special needs from bullying

©All rights reserved

Is this what we are coming to? Murder as a remedy to mental illness?

Korry B“Is this what we are coming to?”

I found myself asking this question after reading an article about a man in Fairview Oregon who was talking to himself in an apartment. When police arrived it was horrible, police fired several shots into the Fairview apartment after the man’s friend called 911. The man was taken to the hospital where he is in serious condition. “Is this what we are coming to?” After reading this story I found myself wondering if this is the type of society we are going to continue to foster as a result of a lack of knowledge regarding mental health issues. Continue Reading »

How discussion opens doors

NAMIYesterday I spoke with two awesome gentlemen from the New Jersey area NAMI group. These two guys host a weekly radio show through Hunterdon Chamber Radio on Mental Health Matters. Our discussion revolved around parents, families, and caregivers and included everything from talking about suicide, surviving within a very politically controlled, unfair mental health system, staying afloat as a parent, being valued and respected by mental health professionals, laws, civil commitment, and finding your voice as a parent, family member, or caretaker of someone with a mental health condition.

One of the most powerful aspects of this discussion was not the topics themselves, but the building of rapport, commonalities, kindness, and reciprocal ideas, worries, and frustrations. The power of discussion can move a mountain when the right people collaborate. Discussion opens avenues for greater insights, levels of expertise, and motivation. I can honestly say I walked away from the discussion feeling renewed, motivated to continue pushing for change within our mental health system, and further empowering families worldwide.

When you walk away from a conversation feeling turbo-charged for the future, you know something meaningful occurred and that the best is yet to come. There is hope for the future when discussions open new insights.

To listen to the radio recording, visit this site: http://www.hunterdonchamberradio.com/Radio_Shows/Mental_Health_Matters/Mental_Health_Matters-2013-12-02_07.mp3
To learn more about the show, visit their facebook page!

I wish you all the best!


5 ways the mental health system has failed

Our mental health system has seriously left parents, families, and caregivers all alone, lost, confused, and uncertain. Do you know a family feeling this way? I believe there are 5 things our mental health system has failed to do to help this vulnerable population:

  1. The law has given minors too much freedom

  2. The system has devalued parents/families in healthcare facilities

  3. Our system rarely considers the negative consequences of current laws

  4. Our system lacks effective research

  5. The system fails to offer all they have

I wish you well

Spotting ethical violations in therapy

ID-10076027When a therapist communicates his most intimate thoughts, feelings, beliefs, or behaviors to a client in a therapy session or therapy relationship, the therapist has crossed a professional boundary. However, it is important for all clients to carefully consider the situation because some therapists share details about themselves to develop rapport. Such an incident is known as self-disclosure. Some self-disclosure is good for building a long-lasting relationship with commonalities. But there are those therapist-client relationships that cross the line and end up making the client the therapist and the therapist the client.

Some individuals believe that transference (when the client begins viewing the therapist outside of his or her professional role) and counter-transference (when a therapist reciprocates feelings of the client) can occur in which a therapist has crossed boundaries, making it difficult for a client to benefit from the transference because the therapist simply enjoys the confusion. Freudians or psychoanalysts believe that transference can be a useful tool for helping both therapist and client evaluate feelings, thoughts, and past relationships. If this is not done properly, the client can be manipulated or violated.

There are a lot of signs of a bad therapist, but ethical violations can be very difficult to spot. So I recommend clients look for:

  1. Violation of Confidentiality: Confidentiality is your legal and moral right to protection of your conversations in therapy, your files, your phone calls, your emails, and other types of information shared about your personal life. There are instances in which therapists may have to discuss your case with:
    • interns (students studying for their professional agree),
    • supervisors (people with more experience in the field),
    • lawyers (if a legal case is pending), police (if they request a warrant to search records), or
    • teachers (if a child or adolescent is in the process of getting an IEP or Individualized Education Plan)
  2. Violation of HIPAA: HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. This law was passed to protect all medical and mental health information from “outsiders.” But some people claim the ACT has not stopped their employers, lawyers, etc. from requesting information on a psychiatric file. An ethical therapist will make sure that he or she protects the clinical records of clients. Therapists who do not make their policies clear on how they work with HIPAA regulated files, be sure to ask in advance.
  3. Socializing with clients: It is a common rule that therapists think hard and long about socializing with their clients. Some therapists accept invitations to graduations, weddings, or even funerals. It is up to that therapist whether he or she will accept invitations. However, if a therapist chooses to attend, such events should be once in a lifetime and not frequent occurrences. Socializing with a client can reduce relational respect and professional boundaries.
  4. Text or email: Some therapists allow clients to text or email them, while others text and email their clients. This can become a really big violation because clients may interfere with the personal lives of therapists or therapists may interfere with the lives of their clients. Either way, for me, email is for office hours only and for certain things. Texting is out of the question! But different therapists do different things. Frequent texting or emailing should be a red flag.
  5. Sexual misconduct: Believe it or not, some therapists end up abusing their power by taking advantage of clients. Some clients flirt with their therapists and therapists reciprocate. Some therapists come on to their clients. Either way, this is a great ethical and legal violation  that can lead to total career loss and thousands of dollars in legal fees.

You want to keep an eye out for therapists who walk over their clients, either blatantly or subliminally, especially if you are a parent, family member, or caretaker of a youngster in therapy. Young children and teens have a tough time evaluating what is good and what is bad for them. Adults are needed to do these things. With the permission of the child or teen and therapist, you may be able to sit in on a few sessions to get a feel of the therapist and his or her techniques and way of communicating.

As always, feel free to post your experiences. Let’s discuss and learn!

All the best


Williams, M.H. (1997). Boundary violations: Do some contended standards of care fail to encompass commonplace procedures of humanistic, behavioral, and eclectic psychotherapies? Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 34(3), 238-249. doi: 10.1037/h0087717



How to spot a bad therapist: 5 major signs you need to move on

SONY DSCAre you looking for a therapist? Do you currently have one? Do you know someone who is looking for a therapist or thinking of changing therapists? If so, this article is for you. Looking for or being comfortable with a therapist takes time. A therapist-client relationship takes time to develop, but if your therapist isn’t a good one, the relationship will never develop! Continue Reading »

Delusions Vs. Hallucinations: Differences and How To Cope

Billy AlexanderDelusions and hallucinations can be dangerous for the individual experiencing them and those around the individual. Hallucinations can cause people to act on their emotions. For example, an auditory hallucination is often in the form of voices telling an individual to do something dangerous such as harm themselves or others.

Delusions can turn into rooted beliefs that cause the individual to act on their belief. For example, a woman who writes letters to Alex Baldwin begins to believe he is sending her messages that he is in love with her,  may attempt to buy tickets to all of his shows and cyber stalk him. A strong delusion such as this can lead to emotional (and maybe even) financial distress.

Delusions and hallucinations are not easy to cope with. But here are a few things to try:

  1. Do not argue facts: I always encourage families to re-frame from arguing with their loved one about their delusions or hallucinations. The key is to be mindful that the delusion or hallucination is very real to them. So if you go against the delusion or hallucination, you are “going against them.” Although not true, this is often the experience of people in these shoes.
  2. Understand their emotions: Hallucinations and delusions often have an emotional component of some sort. The woman attracted to and writing Alex Baldwin may feel “emotionally connected” to the point of behaving as if she “knows” him on a personal level. If you find there is a strong emotional connection with the delusion or hallucination, try to talk with your loved one and calmly discuss your concerns.
  3. Get inside their head: Individuals experiencing delusions or hallucinations may be difficult to talk to, especially if they do not believe they are impaired/ill. So wait until the individual brings up their experience and discuss it without judgment. Try not to ask questions that would make your loved one feel condemned or “crazy.” You want to try to understand, no matter how unstable their reasoning is, their thought processes. This is good “data” for if you ever have to discuss your case with a psychiatrist.

The most important thing to do in such cases is to be compassionate and understand that your loved one is going through something quite serious. Reaching out for help is important, but so too is showing love and understanding, even if the delusions or hallucinations are unrealistic.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, post below.

All the best


©Photo Credit: Billy Alexander

5 Myths Parents Believe About Youngsters & Mental Health

Hidden-2A very sad reality is that innocent and sweet children suffer from severe and often untreated mental illnesses. Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a host of other mental health concerns have evaded the lives of many children and adolescents today. According to WebMD, about 20% of children experience a mental health problem, while about 5 million children and adolescents suffer from a severe mental illness.  

We must not forget about our substance related problems. Adolescents and even young children are beginning to abuse substances (street drugs, prescriptions, OTC meds, and house-hold products). According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (2013), about 6.5% of 12th graders reported using marijuana daily.

Despite these facts, a variety of myths still invade our society and has a rather strong effect on whether a parent, family member, or caretaker will consider seeking mental health treatment for their young loved one.

Having spoken to multiple families, parents, and caregivers, I have come to the conclusion that 5 myths prevent appropriate and timely mental health treatment:

  1. Children don’t have stress: Unfortunately, a lot of adults believe that ALL children have wonderful lives filled with Disney characters, fantasies, and no worries. This is sadly far from the truth for some youngsters. We must keep in mind that some kids experience many of the same issues that stress adults such as:
    • Watching mom/dad struggle to pay bills
    • living in less than ideal living conditions
    • homelessness
    • hunger or malnutrition
    • poverty
    • discrimination and segregation
    • bullying or harassment
    • self-esteem issues
    • physiological symptoms that interfere with daily life
    • medical conditions such as diabetes
  2. Kids will outgrow their problems: The reality is that many kids will not outgrow their mental or behavioral health problems  although some kids are able to manage their symptoms better as they age. If you see troubling signs, I encourage you to seek help. Kids never outgrow serious problems.Hidden 3
  3. No therapist can help me!: The idea that ALL mental health professionals are bad is incorrect and biased. There are quite a few good therapists and mental health professionals, but you must search for the best fit. While there are good therapists, there are also incompetent therapists as well. Search wisely.
  4. Every child has a problem: While most people have quirks and habits that may be bothersome, ALL children do not have mental health or behavioral problems. We don’t want to “normalize” a problem that can grow and progress into negative ways. If you see symptoms or signs that concern you, reach out.
  5. My child is too smart for mental illness: A lot of people believe that if you are intelligent, you are not mentally ill. This is one of the biggest mistakes and myths there is. Intelligence has zero connection to mental health. An individual could have severe bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, yet hold a PhD or run a company of over 600 people. We should not continue to be blinded by this myth. A child who is getting A’s in class, could also be suffering from hallucinations, depression, or attention problems.

It is important that we search for balanced, correct information. Mental health is becoming a very serous public health concern and we cannot continue to ignore it.

All the best


WebMD. (2013). Mental illness in children. Anxiety & Panic Disorders Health Center. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from http://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/mental-health-illness-in-children.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013). NIDA For Teens: Marijuana. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from http://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/marijuana.

Photo Credit: Hidden (Doriana S.)

Photo Credit: Hidden (Kinsey)


Understanding How Hallucinations Affect Your Loved One

Brain scanning technology is quickly approachi...

Brain scanning technology is quickly approaching levels of detail that will have serious implications (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Any type of psychotic disorder can be extremely disturbing for families, caregivers, and even friends. The individual suffering from psychosis can seem very far away and out of touch with reality. It can be difficult to relate to this individual or even comfort them. Keep in mind that while you may be experiencing stress, distress, and fear in regards to these hallucinations, the person suffering is probably even more afraid.

In moments where your loved one is experiencing a psychotic disorder, it is important that you monitor them (ensuring that they are not a danger to themselves or others) and reach out for support. If you have questions or concerns about this topic, feel free to send me an email or post below.

There are various types of hallucinations that families, caregivers, and friends should be aware of:

  1. Visual: These type of hallucinations often entail seeing shadows, seeing silhouettes of people, seeing demons or other frightening images.
  2. Auditory: Auditory hallucinations are the most common. When a patient or client comes into a psychiatric healthcare facility for evaluation, the most disturbing symptoms are often auditory hallucinations. These types of hallucinations are often the person’s name being called, dogs barking, doors slamming, one or more talking voices, or even sometimes white noise.
  3. Olfactory: Every human being has what is known as the Olfactory bulb, which is located in the forebrain (the area of the brain behind the forehead) that entails our perception of odors and controls our sense of smell. In cases where psychotic disorders are present, olfactory hallucinations are typical such as smelling smoke or something burning. Some individuals clam they can randomly smell the scent of flowers or cologne.
  4.  Tactile: This type of hallucination has to deal with touch. It often entails feeling pressure on the skin or feeling things crawling on the body.
  5. Gustatory: These hallucinations have to do with taste. Some individuals state that they can taste poison in their food.

Most of the above hallucinations can also occur in individuals experiencing withdrawal from alcohol and other serious drugs such as methamphetamines known as DT’s (Delirium Tremens). Symptoms of DT’s can be extremely bothersome and frightening for individuals observing the withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms may include:

  • extreme perceptual disturbance such as seeing rats of mice,
  • shakes,
  • agitation or autonomic hyperactivity,
  • hypertension, fever,
  • disorientation, confusion,
  • nightmares, and feelings of imminent death

Keep in mind that although rare, children also experience these symptoms in cases involving psychosis or schizophrenia.

If you are dealing with any of these symptoms or have a loved one experiencing them, I encourage you to reach out to a local mental health professional. If you have questions, post them below.

I wish you well


Understanding your loved one: Coping with delusions

An example of walking in sandals.

An example of walking in sandals. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maintaining a relationship with a loved one who may be experiencing delusions is like walking on shaky ground. Every step you take could land you in an argument or adversarial position. Whether you intend to argue your points or attempt to bring reality to the attention of your loved one, you will always be on the opposing side. Delusions are strong beliefs held to be true despite evidence to the contrary.


Here is a listing of types of delusions to be watchful of:

  1. Grandiose type: Delusions involve inflated worth, power, knowledge, or identity. This is not the same as narcissistic thinking. Grandiose delusions might sound like this: “I am usually more intelligent than most, so I must rid the world of people not as smart as me.”
  2. Erotomanic type: Strong belief that another person of higher status (celebrity, congressman, etc.) is in love with them. This can occur even when there has been no relational ties with the person.
  3. Jealous type: Strong belief that an intimate partner is being unfaithful, despite evidence to the contrary.
  4. Persecutory type: Delusions or strong beliefs that the person is being persecuted or malevolently treated.
  5. Somatic type: Delusion that the person has a physical defect or medical condition. This is different from hypochondria.
  6. Mixed type: Delusions that may entail all of the above.


There are a few things you can do to cope with this behavior:

  1. Don’t argue: It is going to be very difficult to unravel the entanglement of delusions that your loved one is entertaining. Keep in mind that they truly believe what they believe and they have a “deficit” in deciphering truth from fiction. This person needs a certain level of compassion.
  2. Don’t directly reject the delusion: I’ve learned from experience that delusions are strongly connected to emotions, so it will be difficult to reject that person’s belief without becoming confrontational. You want to take a neutral stance. You can do something simple such as getting off the topic or redirecting the conversation in a subtle manner.
  3. Don’t jump to pathologize: Don’t label your loved one’s delusion(s) as psychiatric just yet. There are cases in which delusions are part of medical or neurological conditions and also what I call “conditions of human nature.


This is a very difficult situation to live with. It is difficult to view reality from your loved one’s perspective when you know their perspective is skewed. It may be helpful for families and caregivers to discuss this situation with a therapist and ask for a consultation. In any event, make sure to take care of yourself and remember: do not argue with them. You won’t win.


I wish you all the best


For information on how to distinguish what type of delusions your loved one may be experiencing, visit my “sister site” at Caregivers, Family, and Friends.

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Problem-Solving Scenario and Steps

Consider this situation from one of my sessions this past week:

Kimberly is a 12 year old girl who is in treatment for depression and severe anxiety. She lives in a lower socio-economic neighborhood that consists of crime and drug abuse. Her mother is an alcoholic who binge drinks every weekend with her new boyfriend of 4wks. Every weekend Kimberly’s mother struggles to stay away from the alcohol. Her mother has been on disability for 15yr for bipolar disorder and for a heart condition. Kimberly’s mom doesn’t have transportation to take her to school each day so she is stuck walking to school with kids who are either bullying her, threatening to bully her, or pressuring her to try drugs with them after school. Kimberly is feeling overwhelmed by her own mental health problems and environmental stressors. Once in school, she finds herself struggling with anxiety and asks her teacher to allow her to sit in the back of the class alone. Her teacher, who has been in the army for years, tells her to “suck it up” and “hang in there with the other students.” She tries to explain that her anxiety and depression have worsened due to changes in her home life and that she needs a little flexibility. She tries to convince her teacher that she will complete her work but just cannot participate actively in class at this time. Her teacher sends her to the Principals office and she gets a rating on her report card of “failing to participate.” Her mother begins to yell at her and sends her to her room. Kimberly sits in her room, having already been in crisis state, and contemplates suicide. She grabs a pocket knife and begins to cut her arms and legs. Her mother just happens to walk into her room and see blood. Mother calls 911 and reports that her daughter needs psychiatric treatment. The police call an ambulance that eventually takes Kimberly to the nearest psychiatric hospital for evaluation. The attending psychiatrist diagnosed Kimberly with major depressive disorder, severe, single episode. She is then held in the hospital for 48-72hrs before obtaining an appointment with an outpatient therapist. Her therapist further evaluates her, designs a crisis plan with Kimberly, and begins to discuss problem-solving skills. Kimberly explains that she does not have control over her situation because her mother “does what she wants to do and I am just a kid.” Her therapist explains that while she may not have complete control over her circumstances, she can use problem-solving skills that can help her cope in the meantime. The therapist explains that instead of engaging in self-injury as a coping skill, she can turn to self-soothing to calm down (listening to music, exercising, talking to a friend, dancing, etc.) and then walk through the problem-solving stages:

  • Identify the problem: too many changes in the home, declining mental health, lack of understanding teachers
  • Past responses that didn’t work: cutting, thinking about suicide (which resulted in being hospitalized and medicated)
  • Develop a different plan: use coping skills first, reach out to someone for help that might understand you better such as a school counselor or Principal.
  • Find ways to take baby-steps in implementing this solution: each time Kimberly feels overwhelmed, she is to try one coping skills per day and then increase the amount of coping skills she uses each week.
  • Consider what can or who can support you in trying this new solution or different response: talking to a school counselor or the Principal about the coping skills you need to use in order to stay on track in school. Kimberly asked me to write a note to her school’s Principal and teacher so they could better understand the situation.
  • Ask for feedback once you have tried the different response (asking others if they think your approach was better): after a week of trying her new skills, Kimberly is to ask her teachers if they saw a difference in her.
  • Trying it all out: Kimberly set her mind on giving this process a try without fighting it or making excuses for why it won’t work.
  • Evaluating it (determining if it actually worked): Kimberly will write in her journal or talk with her teacher about how these skills help or do not help.
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Radio: Families struggling with mental illness

Mental illness is a big topic of discussion today. But did you know that family caregivers (parents, step-parents, grandparent, aunts, cousins, etc) are often overlooked when a loved one needs psychiatric support? The entire system ignores these family caregivers and often keeps these families in the dark. To learn more, check into this podcast with Dr. Gordon Atherley from Canada where I had the pleasure of discussing multiple barriers in the mental health field.


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5 warning signs of Childhood Onset Schizophrenia

sad child 2

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Are you the parent of a child or adolescent who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia or some type of psychotic disorder? If so, you are not alone. You can probably relate to the devastation may parents experience when they finally receive a diagnosis that entails psychotic symptoms. It’s as if the world completely stops and all of the goals and dreams of the future, put on hold. As rare as childhood onset schizophrenia (COS) is, there are many parents who are flabbergasted by the diagnosis so soon in their child’s life. No parent ever wants to consider that their child will have to grapple with the complex symptoms of schizophrenia for the rest of their lives. Sadly, schizophrenia is a pervasive illness that requires lifelong treatment. There are no easy routes.


About 1% of the adult population suffers from schizophrenia. Children, however, only suffer about 1 in 40,000. Childhood onset schizophrenia is a rare occurrence. It is referred to as “early onset” because it occurs before the age of 13. Schizophrenia has long been considered an “adult disease” because of the complexities involved in identifying delusions and hallucinations as well as thought disorder in young children. Schizophrenia can also be hard to detect in childhood because a range of childhood disorders overlap with schizophrenia such as symptoms found in mood disorders (bipolar disorder or depression) or behavioral disorders (oppositional defiant disorder and ADHD). Other youngsters can exhibit symptoms that appear similar to COS if they have been severely abuse and neglected or traumatized. Children and adolescents who have been abandoned by their families and placed in foster care or adoption agencies tend to exhibit symptoms such as poor attachment, decreased emotionality, flat affect, rigidity, aggression or emotional outbursts, suicidal thoughts or attempts, and depression. All of these symptoms tend to occur in COS.


Interestingly, another reason it can be difficult to identify COS is because some of the symptoms of COS mimic those of Asperger’s disorder. Current research has suggested genetic similarities between some of the symptoms of schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders. For example, language delays, flat affect, decreased emotional expression, lack of interest in interpersonal relationships or social situations, delayed reaction to pain or decreased sensitivity to pain, abnormal motor movements such as rocking back and forth (known as echolalia in autism), and delayed developmental milestones can all be found in COS. Many kids who have autism may walk or talk late in life, but so do some kids who will eventually be diagnosed with schizophrenia. To make matters worse, children diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder and who have been severely neglected or abused also exhibit delayed development, aggression, flat affect, and abnormal motor movements. Obtaining a correct diagnosis means a great deal to a family who relies heavily on medication and therapy for stabilization of symptoms.


Diagnosing schizophrenia in adolescence can also be a challenge because many teens exhibit many of the behaviors seen in youngsters who are diagnosed with schizophrenia such as:

  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Struggling with grades or experiencing a drop in GPA
  • Irritability, aggression, and mood instability
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of motivation or sluggishness
  • Overall strange behavior


In many cases, delusions are more prevalent among adults who have psychotic disorders, while visual hallucinations are more likely to be experienced as adolescents. The most important thing about COS to remember is that as most kids age, more of the typical symptoms of schizophrenia such as hallucinations, delusions, disorganized thinking, and abnormal behavior are likely to be exhibited. The negative symptoms (symptoms that do not include hallucinations of delusions) of schizophrenia such as lack of eye contact, flat affect, and speaking without inflection are easier to identify as children age as well. The positive symptoms of schizophrenia (hallucinations and delusions) are also more likely to be noticeable.



In mid-September I featured three mothers (Kathy Brandt, Sharon Page, Melanie Jimenez) who have had to live with the reality of their adult children living with schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder, bipolar disorder, and other psychotic disorders. Personal Stories Week, featured on Caregivers, Family, & Friends blog, allows these moms to share their deepest concerns, fears, and challenges. They have expressed the confusion often inherent in a schizophrenia diagnosis. One mother once said to me “the moment you are told that your child has schizophrenia, the world stops. Nothing matters at that point because your life has drastically changed.” Kathy, Sharon, and Melanie can certainly agree. But one of the things all three of these women insinuated in their articles was the fact that it can be difficult to identify when your child is sick, retreating into poor heath, or needing intense psychiatric treatment. As a therapist, I often educate families on the red-flags and warning signs that appear when psychiatric treatment is needed.


As stated in a previous article, individuals who are retreating into their illness often exhibit certain signs and symptoms. A few red flags or warning signs that you should look for include but are not limited to:



1. Restless behavior: the fact that an individual is restless alone doesn’t necessarily say that that person needs psychiatric attention. There are a lot of days that many of us are restless. Life alone, your job alone, or your relationships can make you restless. But if that restlessness takes over an individual’s behavior so much that they appear anxious, disheveled, or simply out of control, mental health intervention may be needed.

2. Agitation and frustration: again everybody can get agitated and everybody can get frustrated. But it’s when that agitation and frustration is unfounded, unnecessary, and disruptive to people around the individual, that psychiatric intervention may be needed.

3. Increased substance abuse: an individual who is a substance abuser can demonstrate restless behavior, agitation, and frustration. It can be difficult to distinguish between a natural emotional reaction to life or behavior as a result of substance abuse. But if you are looking at an individual who has picked up greater amounts of alcohol, marijuana, over-the-counter prescription medication, or other drugs, intervention may be needed. Substance abusers typically lack coping skills, so their way of coping is usually to increase the amount of drugs that they take in. If you observe increased drug abuse, intervention is typically needed.

4. Depressed mood: sometimes it’s very difficult for us to determine how tired we are, how much intervention we may need, or even how much sleep and relaxation we have neglected in our lives. Individuals who are hard-pressed, may lack the ability to know when it’s time to pull over. Therefore, it is important that people on the outside who care for this individual keep their eyes peeled for strange behavior. Someone who is repeatedly depressed, crying often, unable to sleep or sleeping too much, eating too much or not eating enough, exhibit a in irritability for no apparent reason, picking fights, or simply hopeless, is usually in need of intervention.

5. Isolation: some individuals are natural loners. Some individuals are natural introverts. Some people, including myself, appreciate alone time and time to reflect upon our own emotions, our own thoughts, our own goals, and maybe even our future direction. However, there are some individuals who isolate more often than normal when they are in need of help. If an individual is depressed, increasing their substance use, feeling agitated at the drop of a hat, or even filling hopeless about life, it is easy for them to isolate. You want to be careful not to put pressure on the person who is isolating to become extroverted. Sometimes this makes matters worse. But I encourage you to ask your loved one if they are going through a tough time.



As you can see, childhood onset schizophrenia can be a very difficult diagnosis to not only live with, but also identify correctly. As a result, it is important that you receive second opinions and multiple treatment options for your loved one. The other thing to keep in mind is being aware of the warning signs of relapse.


As always, I wish you well.

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Have you had experience with the “she-wolf?” Find out…

A “she-wolf,” do you know one? Find out….

Embracing Hope: 8 realizations that might change your perspective

Cécile Graat

Photo Credit: Cecile Graat

What has life given you lately? Anything? Was it a gift, a gift in disguise, or a total disaster? For many of us, we experience a little bit of all three of these things. It’s common for humans to experience life at varying levels during different times in our lives. Sometimes we come out of the dark, cold tunnel feeling empowered or enlightened. While at other times we come out of the dark, cold tunnel feeling even more confused and all alone. Either way, no human will escape feeling as though they are falling apart.

When have you fallen apart in your life? Was it when the family could not hide any longer and would not try to get along? Was it when your divorce happened? Was it a mental health diagnosis? Was it job loss? Whatever the case, falling apart requires that we eventually learn how to pick up the pieces of our soul and move forward. Finding the motivation to actually move forward can take a long time. But “moving forward” doesn’t always mean complete healing, success, or victory. That perspective is often false and fantasized. Moving forward may mean taking baby-steps and re-learning how to live life again. We may never move forward in total “healing,” but the right tools can push us in a better direction.

It was not until I experienced multiple disappointments in my own life that I began to pursue higher meaning and purpose for the suffering. In my search for meaning, I met realizations that changed my perception and my heart forever. There are things you will have to come to terms with (within yourself and possibly within others or the situation itself) in order to move forward. Acceptance of disappointment or hurt is the first step toward progress. Acceptance doesn’t mean that you are ignoring the issue, it means that you are using the only tools that you have right now. But it is only when you begin to merge the following together with your painful experience will you fully be on your way toward psychological, emotional, and spiritual healing:

  1. Learn from the hurt: It can be so difficult trying to process a painful situation and then learn from it. But learning from the situation has a way of providing closure and helping us to move forward. Learning may take a very long time. For me, it isn’t until I go through the experience, experience all the emotions of the experience, and accept it happened that I begin to learn. Don’t rush this process, but be open to it.
  2. Question: A lot of people have a lot of questions. Life is full of confusion. I’ve learned the strongest people are those who can move on beyond their questions and find purpose. Life is a big question mark! Don’t let this stop you from growing.
  3. Process: Processing a circumstance takes time and may take years until you get to a place of inner calm. I tend to process my thoughts and emotions through journaling or writing down my dreams. The human mind and soul are complex, take notes.
  4. Accept: Accept that you may never understand why something bad has happened. We aren’t super-human, neither are we capable of understanding all things that occur among our complex human existence. Only a Great Being can do so. In the meantime, it’s okay to have questions, but you cannot move forward until you realize you may never have an answer.
  5. Treatment: “Treatment” includes taking care of yourself with things that revive your heart, soul, and mind. You want to refrain from those things that make life worse in the long-term, but “good” in the short-term. Examples include drug abuse, alcohol, reckless behavior, self-injurious behavior, overeating, etc. Treatment requires self-care, not self-destruction.
  6. Move on: Once you process a situation, get through all of your questions (with or without an answer), accept the situation, and treat yourself, you can move on.
  7. Wait: One very wise thing my mother and pastor use to say to me was “sometimes in life you just have to wait.” Waiting means to cease from trying to change things that cannot be changed by You.
  8. An anchor: an anchor is anything that holds you and doesn’t let you fall. Technically, an anchor is a heavy object attached to a rope or chain. It is strong enough to hold a ship. Do you have an anchor? I encourage you to find one to hold on to. Could it be your family? Your children? God? Truth? Anything that can hold you is an anchor.


As always, feel free to share your thoughts or ways you cope, I enjoy discussing them.


I wish you all the best


Editor’s note: This article was originally published September 25, 2013 on PsychCentral.com but has been updated to reflect comprehensiveness and accuracy.




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