The Importance of Children's Mental Health upon the New School Year

It’s that time of year again. Summer break is coming to an end and its back to reality of the school year hustle and bustle. The school year can be a challenging time for children as they struggle with fitting in with their peers, pressure of getting good grades and learning to balance extracurricular activities. Florida ranks one of the lowest states in the country for mental health funding and with the last report a couple years ago, Florida ranked #49 out of 50 states. What does this mean for our youth? In Charlotte County there is a lack of mental health professionals within the school system. High schools may each have a social worker assigned to their school but elementary schools often have one social worker to cover two to three schools each. Therefore, when your child is at school and going through something significantly stressful; domestic violence, the loss of a best friend, a bad breakup, bullying, etc. They are often limited as to where they are able to reach out for help, and they often turn to their friends who don’t have the healthiest of advice at times. Children from the beginning of their development have difficulty expressing their needs and just because as they get older they master language, sometimes it is difficult for a child to identify their feelings. Being aware of changes in your child’s behavior may help you to prompt a conversation or seek professional guidance from a therapist. 

Things to look out for; 

Missing school due to somatic complaints; stomach aches, headaches, nausea, with no other symptoms of illness. 

Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed.

Isolating themselves from the family and/or their friends.

Significant changes in their eating habits, sudden weight loss or weight gain. 

Frequent crying spells and inability to express what they are upset about.

Engaging in self-harm behaviors; make sure to notice upper thighs, stomach or areas often covered.    

We are often busy and disconnected despite being more connected technologically than ever before, but the continuous access to technology can at times, separate us from the ones we love. Have open and honest conversations with your children. Let them know that they can come with you to talk about their feelings or to have a sounding board to help them figure them out.  And if you need professional help, don’t be hesitant to reach out. 

 

Stength over Stigma

According to the American Counseling Association, counseling is an inherently strengths-based, professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.  Professional Counselors develop individualized strategies with their clients to help them overcome personal obstacles and challenges.  The core of this unique professional relationship is always a strengths-based empowerment toward the attainment of each client’s personal goals.

Despite the emphasis on strength and empowerment in the very definition of counseling, our society maintains a salient stigma towards the receipt of mental and behavioral health care.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines stigma as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.  To feel shame or disgrace about one’s need for mental health care certainly adds insult to injury, however, the real cost of stigma should be measured in the lack of treatment received, as all too many individuals and families struggle in secrecy, shame and silence.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 43.8 million American adults experience mental illness in a given year, which is the equivalent of one in five adults. 10 million adults live with a serious mental illness, or one in ten adults. One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14 and three quarters by age 24.  Nevertheless, over 60% of adults and 50% of children and adolescents with a diagnoseable mental illness never receive any treatment. 

Stigma and lack of access explain this egregious treatment gap, and the impact is staggering: serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion dollars annually in lost earnings, depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports, in 2016 suicide became the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.

Counselors understand stigma and struggle tirelessly to undermine its pernicious effects. One of the chief ways we do this is by not pathologizing clients.  Instead of labeling from a problem-focused perspective, counselors adopt a strengths-based and solution-focused approach to client-centered care.  By promoting and preserving the autonomy of every client, counselors work more like a swing coach in golf or tennis.  We start by understanding our client’s goals and values, we work hard to view the field of play from our client’s perspective, and then we work collaboratively with our clients to promote their strengths and develop their skills.

If you or someone you love and care for are confronted with a serious mental illness or simply struggling to adjust to changed circumstances, please do not let stigma or fear of judgment prevent access to treatment.  Professional counselors stand well-prepared to come alongside to strengthen and empower you to achieve your goals, without judgment or reproach, regardless of who you are, where you come from, or what you believe or value.  Counselors can empower you to leverage your own strengths as you confront areas of needed growth.

Remember, too, one doesn’t need a diagnosis (or suspected diagnosis) to benefit from professional counseling or psychotherapy.  As Carl Gustav Jung wrote: “your vision will become clear only when you look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.” Consider taking a strengths-based approach to your own awakening and contact a counselor today to help empower your personal vision.

Mental Health Awareness

May marks Mental Health Awareness month where communities, organizations and other affiliates partner in raising attentiveness to mental health. Usually when the word health is used, most think of only the physical aspects this encompasses. Mental health is just as important as maintaining physical health because it affects all facets of our daily routine. This stresses the importance of seeing the whole person so that we are addressing minds and bodies rather than trying to pinpoint one health to focus on. According to a Harris Poll 89% of people believe that mental health is just as important as physical health. However, the issue lies where many people do not know how to or do not converse about mental health that contributes to stigmas forming. According to the National Alliance of Mental Health, 1 out of 5 people are affected by mental health and when combined with stigma it influences these individuals from seeking help. Therefore, deterrence of treatment usually occurs when the environment may contain shame, fear and silence. This perception of mental illness has the ability to change and you can help by:

  • Identifying and reducing any stigmas you might have
  • Educating yourself and others in the community
  • Finding appropriate ways to help advocate for these individuals 
  • Providing support by volunteering and knowing resources
  • Sharing your experiences
  • Taking care of yourself

Although some might seem small, little changes over time can create huge gains for yours and others overall health and wellbeing. Stigma can be reversed by compassion, empathy and understanding. So remember, sometimes the uncomfortable or unknown topics are what need to be talked about in order to address them. Let’s start learning and talking.

 

Counseling & Awareness

April is Counseling Awareness Month and this year, The American Counseling Association (ACA) is focused on highlighting ways in which professional counselors can help with a variety of everyday issues.  Some of the issues professional counselors can help with are: learning ways to manage stress, anger management, grief, trauma, anxiety and depression, improving family conflict and marital problems by learning effective and positive communication strategies, making healthier lifestyle changes involving career decisions, addictions, parenting, and finding balance between work and life.

Asking for help can be nerve wracking and daunting; however it is the first step to making change in your life. Do you desire to improve your life? Be happier? Worry less? Stop a bad habit?  Communicate better with others? Let go of past hurts? If you answered yes, then maybe counseling is right for you! “But how do I find the right counselor?” 

Well, think of if similar to finding the right hairstylist. No one wants to go to a stylist that is never available, does a sloppy job or is too pricey. So, when looking for a counselor, you want to find one that will meet most of what you are looking for. For example, some things to consider when searching for a counselor are: 

  • Do I want a male or female therapist?
  • Do they take insurance or have a sliding scale?
  • Do they work with children?
  • Do they have any specialties?
  • What types of issues do they work with?
  • Do they have a website?
  • Do they have hours that are convenient to my schedule?
  • What type of counseling approach do they use?
  • Is the counseling practice conveniently located?

Once you have done your research, it’s now time to make the call. Yes, admitting that you need help can be scary and vulnerable; however, it will be one of the best decisions you can make for yourself and/or family. Counselors are trained in a variety of counseling techniques and theories. Most have a minimum of a Master’s degree and are licensed or a registered intern. You can check out Psychology Today to search for counselors in your area; or check out www.swfcc.net for a list of counselors that may meet your needs.  Now is the time to make the change you have always wanted to make! Now is the time to get back to being happier! Now is the time to live a better balanced life! Now is the time to call a counselor! We can help! Call today to schedule an appointment with one our qualified professional counselors. For more information call 941-391-1067 or visit our website at www.swfcc.net.

LGBTQ+

Most people have seen shows or documentaries about the LGBTQ+ community or heard stories from others about their loved ones coming out to them. However, not many of these shows or stories inform you on how to handle these situations or what to do if you are in them. There are now many different ways people can identify their gender and sexuality. Additionally, people are starting to try to identify their gender and sexuality very young. This can be to confusing and there is a lot of misinformation about these topics.

What can you do if someone you know comes out to you about their gender or sexual identity? The first thing is to take a moment and think about your reaction first. How will this affect your future relationship with this person? Next, decide if you need more education on the topic. Usually the person telling you is able to give you a lot of information, if you ask. However, if you feel uncomfortable asking, seek information on your own. Third, realize that if this person is telling you, they have probably been struggling with this decision for longer than you think. Things you should not do are, try to convince them that they are confused, tell them they are too young to know yet, say “it’s just a phase, react out of fear, or tell them how horrible their lives will be if they continue on this path. They are telling you because they trust you and you should take that into account with your response. If you need more education, you can contact your local LGBTQ+ center as they usually have information for family and friends available, or you can seek information from someone who is an experienced LGBTQ+ leader or counselor in your community.

If you are someone who is struggling with your gender or sexual identity there are also many resources available to you. If you are able to, seeking counseling from someone experienced in LGBTQ+ counseling or support group. Be sure to ask if the counselor has any experience in your particular struggles as some LGBTQ+ issues are specialized and not all LGBTQ+ counselors have experience in every topic. At our offices, I run a LGBTQ+ Teen support group. If you are not able to, or do not have access to a counselor, you can contact your local LGBTQ+ center. If you prefer to remain anonymous these are the helplines you can contact: if you are under 25, 1-800-246- Pride, or for all ages 1-888-843-4564.

The Aftermath of Childhood Domestic Violence

If left untreated, the residual effects of domestic violence (DV) persist throughout adulthood. Children who are exposed, not only to violence in their home, but direct child abuse are more inclined to suffer from the following: violent acts, aggression, delinquency, depression, social isolation, anxiety and low self-esteem. Children who witness violence are less likely to regulate strong emotions and can display troublesome behavior, for example lashing out in anger at home. Many stages of a child's development can be effected:

  • visual and auditory processing
  • memory
  • reading
  • learning

 

Some other symptoms linked to DV:

  • being emotionally distant
  • distrusting of others
  • sleep disturbance
  • bed-wetting, and fears of being alone
  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • eating disorders, social phobias  
  • Attention Deficient Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) have been tied to DV.

 

    The effects of stress from DV during childhood can permanently alter the brain as the violent acts occur during vital stages of development. Also, this stress can be attributed to heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and metabolic disorders.  This is not to say that DV will cause these disorders, yet there seems to be a connection between these disorders and DV.   Many adult women who have been subjected to abuse suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Depression, and/ or Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).   Additionally, men who were abused in childhood can be more likely to abuse their children compared to the men who were not abused.  Often times, individuals who were exposed to or victims of DV end up in abusive relationships, only continuing this abusive cycle.

    If you or your child are experiencing these symptoms or concerns, please contact Southwest Florida Counseling Center where we can assist in the healing process.  Our compassionate and non-judgmental therapists can help you and/or your child can gain inner freedom.