20% of American children suffer from mental illness

The new SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) law that President Obama signed significantly increases health coverage for children, which also includes mental health parity. According to Nancy Shute of U.S. News & World Report, health coverage is expanded to:

“4 million more children beyond the 6 million already covered but also brings mental-health parity to the state programs that provide insurance for children in low-income families, requiring that they get the same access to treatment for bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and other serious disorders as they do for physical ailments.”

Then I stumble across this:

Depressed child“Mental-health needs are nowhere near being met,” says Jay E. Berkelhamer, past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics and chief academic officer at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “At least 20 percent of all visits to pediatricians’ offices are related to mental-health problems.

Normally, though, overworked pediatricians may not ask if a child has a mental-health problem—and may not know where to refer him or her if they do. About 20 percent of children and teenagers have a mental-health problem at any given time, or about 8 million to 13 million people. Two thirds of them are not getting the help they need.

That means out of roughly 40-65 million kids, we have 8-13 million who are “mentally ill.” And then about 5-8 million who aren’t getting proper mental help.

Color me cynical but I think 20 percent is a disproportionately high number to classify children as mentally ill. I think the percentage of adults being classified as mentally ill is exorbitant enough, let alone children who are going through stages in their lives where they’re simply developing, encountering mood swings, being disobedient, and perhaps, being — perish the thought! — normal children.

But let’s address something else here: I don’t think it’s impossible for children to suffer from mental illness but the incidence should be significantly lower.

According to Dr. Louis Kraus, the chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, suicide ranks as the sixth-leading cause of death among ages 5-14 — “although rare.” From ages 15-24, it jumps to number three.

The key word in that last paragraph is suicide is “rare.” The rate of mental illness in children should reflect that somehow. While I’m very happy SCHIP includes widespread mental health parity for low-income families, I’m also concerned children will be overdiagnosed with a “mental illness” when they may simply be dealing with the normal challenges of a difficult life.

“I used to care, but now I take a pill for that.” — Author unknown

Philip Dawdy at Furious Seasons has some great posts on the bipolar child paradigm that further explore the murky world of psychiatry pushing psychiatric illnesses and psychotropic drugs on kids. I’d also recommend reading Soulful Sepulcher as Stephany recounts her and her daughter’s experiences in and out of the mental health system.

(pic from save.org)

Loose Screws Mental Health News

I could’ve been a statistic right here in this area.

suicides in PhiladelphiaPhiladelphia now boasts the sharpest increase in suicides in the country. Despite all the homicides in Philadelphia making the news, the 196 people who killed themselves in 2008 were quietly buried in the obit pages (if they made it there at all).

In light of this news, I’ve decided to place a suicide hotline web banner in the upper right-hand corner of my right sidebar. Susan of If You’re Going Through Hell Keep Going has one in her sidebar and I think it’s a wonderful idea. I’ve had a couple of people comment or send me emails about how they feel they’re on the brink of losing it so hopefully the banner — one of the first things to be seen on this page — will draw some attention and prompt someone to call for help. When I was a teen, I called 1.800.SUICIDE. I can’t remember what happened exactly but I called the hotline and someone talked me into why life was still worth living. People who are suicidal don’t really want to die; they want an escape from the pain they’re feeling and they feel the only way to alleviate that pain is through inflicting death upon themselves. I hope someone who is suicidal would be willing to pick up the phone and come to the same realization that I did at the time.


Speaking of suicide, researchers from the World Health Organization and the University of Verona, Italy have discovered that SSRIs (a class of antidepressants) may significantly reduce the risk for suicide in adults. SSRIs — which include such medications as Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft — are not be confused with SNRIs such as Effexor, Pristiq, and Cymbalta. PsychCentral notes:

SSRIPrevious studies, including a 2007 study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), found the risk of suicide in adults was neutral, elevated in those under 25 and reduced in people older than 65. A subsequent black box warning was added to all antidepressants regarding increased risk of suicidal symptoms in people under 25 years of age.

Basically, this study just means antidepressants help those who are 25 years and older and hurt those 24 years and younger. I’m sure a new study will come out within the next year or so that contradicts this one. Especially since numerous previous studies on SSRIs found the risk of suicide to be neutral in ages 25-65.


Young adultAccording to the Boston Globe, a (really pathetic) new study shows that nearly half of young adults between the ages of 19 to 25 “meet the criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder.”

Whether in college or not, almost half of this country’s 19-to-25-year-olds meet standard criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder, although some of the disorders, such as phobias, are relatively mild, according to a government-funded survey of more than 5,000 young adults, published in December in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The study, done at Columbia University and called the National Epidemiologic Study on Alcohol and Related Conditions, found more alcohol use disorders among college students, while their noncollege peers were more likely to have a drug use disorder.

But, beyond that, misery is largely an equal-opportunity affliction: Across the social spectrum, young people in America are depressed. They’re anxious. They regularly break one another’s hearts. And, all too often, they don’t get the help they need as they face life’s questions…

According to the 2005-2007 American Community Survey, the population for adults ages 18-24 is gauged to be around 30 million. Therefore if we’re going to take the study at its word, let’s chop the number by half (even though the number is just under half). That will put us at about 15 million young adults. The NIMH, however, estimates 57.7 million adults in the U.S. “suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder.” If this is the case, those 15 million young adults make up nearly 26 percent of the NIMH’s “diagnosable mental disorder” statistic. The inclusion of alcohol and drug addictions might explain why this figure might be a little high.

Happy Valentine's Day

I hate Valentine’s Day. I never cared much for it growing up except that my elementary school teachers forced us to make crafts with hearts aglow and such to present to our parents. But that’s not the reason I hate it so much.

Suicide jumpOn February 14, 1996, I tried to jump off the balcony on my mom’s 4th floor apartment. I’d left my friends goodbye messages but one friend was so concerned she called the police who promptly showed up at the door to make sure I was okay. My mother, who normally works during the day, took the day off just because she “felt like it.” (Which if you knew my mother, never happens and was very out of place.) When the police showed up, she had no idea that I’d been leaning over the rail outside on the balcony staring down at the concrete four stories below. I didn’t fall; I never leaned myself over the rail enough. And by the time I walked back inside (which wasn’t very long), the police rang the doorbell.

My mother looked like she had been hit by a truck. Why would her daughter want to kill herself? She and my father, immigrants from the West Indies, had worked so hard to provide me with a comfortable life, my own bedroom, my own TV, my own video game system, my own stereo, a Catholic school education… everything. Why this?

Not long after, I tried to jump out of the second story window at my high school. The students “tattled” and I suddenly found myself in the guidance counselor’s office. And my mother suddenly found herself sitting next to me as well, disheartened and dismayed.

Why? What prompted all of this? Was it my mental illness? No.

I was lonely.

A new freshman in an all-girls’ school, one of two black girls in the school and I just couldn’t find a way to make lasting friends. The friends that I did make weren’t in any of my classes apart from Music and everyone else seemed to enjoy taunting me and tormenting me. So essentially I had no one to talk to or sit with during lunch. The one girl I’d known from junior high who attended the school with me suddenly turned on me and became hostile. (I’m so forgiving, though, she’s one of my Facebook friends now.)

Broken heartSo on Valentine’s Day, girls got flowers and balloons from their boyfriends who attended other schools and friends showed other friends their affection by giving them cards or funny trinkets. I gazed out the window right before school ended only to see parents pulling up to the school with Lexuses and Benzes while a few guys following behind with their BMWs.

I didn’t speak to anyone the entire day and no one bothered to speak to me. Here’s a bit of TMI: You know that grimy feeling you get in your mouth after you wake up from sleeping during the night? Yeah, I had that by the end of the school day.

Our slim lockers were crammed all into one room so at the end of the day, you had to wait or fight your way to getting to your locker. I distinctly remember bending over while I was packing up only to have someone pinch my backside. Of course, stupid me, I turned around trying to figure out who it was but all I could find were girls chattering excitedly everywhere. Optimists would call it an accident; I dealt with enough that year to know it wasn’t and one of those girls had a few people laughing behind my back.

So when I hear of Valentine’s Day each year, I think of my first official suicide attempt. Nothing serious that landed me in the hospital but it was the first in a string of attempts to come. (I’ve never mentioned the knife-throwing incident at my friend’s 16th birthday party, have I? Well, that’s a story for another day.)

Oh and by the way, have a Happy Valentine’s Day.

(first photo of a Norwegian man jumping to his death; second from lifeofworship.wordpress.com)

Loose Screws Mental Health News: Suicide slide

congregationA new study from the University of Manitoba shows people who regularly attend some kind of religious service are less likely to attempt suicide. The study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, surveyed 37,000 Canadians and their connection with spirituality, religious worship, and suicidal behavior. Those who simply said they were spiritual but didn’t attend religious services did not show a reduced risk of suicide attempts. However, I was dismayed to read that researchers didn’t investigate why regular church attendance decreases the risk of suicide attempts. (Note to self: Go to church each Sunday!) (pic via www.assumpta.fr)

Alison Go of U.S. News & World Report cites a study from Academic Medicine (originally reported by Inside Higher Ed) which suggests depression affects 21.2 percent of medical students. The rates is 11.2 percent higher than that of the general population. And unfortunately, 13 percent of black medical student reported suicidal ideation in the survey, suggesting that the demographic is more likely to suffer from suicidal thoughts.

And yet another study about suicide… The University of Gothenberg in Sweden performed a study on people who had nightmares following a suicide attempt and found out that they were five times more likely to try committing suicide again. The conclusion is based on a meager sample size of 165 patients but I suppose it’s a start.

While it appears that other sleeping obstacles do not raise the risk of multiple suicide attempts, patients who have attempted suicide seem to battle sleeping problems on a regular basis.

It is normal for patients that have attempted suicide to suffer from sleeping difficulties. Some 89 percent of the patients examined reported some kind of sleep disturbance. The most common problems were difficulty initiating sleep, followed by difficulty maintaining sleep, nightmares and early morning awakening.

Interesting observation considering that I have pretty much all of the common problems with the exception of early morning awakening.

Finally in a semi-cool story, a 22-year-old New Jersey guy who was friends with an 18-year-old Californian over the Internet called California police when he found out the 18-year-old said he would attempt suicide. Although it sounds like the teen (his name was not disclosed) is pretty upset about being saved (I know the feeling), it’s a (somewhat) happy ending compared to what happened in November when a Florida teenager streamed a webcast of him committing suicide by dying of a drug overdose. The Florida teen died before police arrived.

Celebrity Sensitivity: Ted Haggard

Ted HaggardTed Haggard, the former evangelical pastor of megachurch New Life Church, recently admitted on Oprah Winfrey’s show to contemplating suicide after the public learned about his sexual encounter with a male escort.

“I was dying. I had settled in my mind exactly how I was going to commit suicide,” Haggard told Winfrey. “I was preparing, and in my life, Jesus came to me and he said, ‘Now, now I can save you.’ “

I hope Mr. Haggard can find other resources to help him move past this difficult trial in his life so that suicide is not a fall-back option. God has an amazing way of taking broken things and piecing them back together, even if we’re the ones who cause the problem. I feel like living proof of that.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light

A comment from Susan from If You're Going Through Hell Keep Going, brought to mind a poem from Dylan Thomas called Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. It always somehow encourages me during times when I'm obsessed with my own death.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Celebrity Sensitivity: Lily Allen

Lily AllenFor those of us not hip-to-the-jive, Lily Allen is a British pop singer who allegedly attempted suicide when she was a teen. Celebrity blog Pop Crunch reports:

The 24-year-old singer was committed after she was left so distraught by the breakdown of her first romance that she tried to “slit her wrists,” the 24-year-old singing star’s half-sister has revealed to a British tabloid.

“Aged 18, she tried to slit her wrists when her first relationship ended and she ended up in The Priory rehab clinic for four weeks,” Sarah Owen, 29, who shares the same mother with Lily said in an interview with Grazia Magazine this week.

“I had a big gang of friends but Lily was more of a loner. She had no-one to talk to about getting her first period or breaking up with her first boyfriend.

“Would it have been different if we’d been closer? Probably,” Sarah says.

As you can tell, Sarah was a caring big sister, really looking out for her little Lily. However, it seems like the incident was only a shadow of mental health struggles to come as she became famous. Lily has publicly said that she sees a therapist for depression ranging from constant attacks in the media to a miscarriage. An excerpt from Billboard magazine notes:

And does she ever worry the attention might push her down the self-destructive path that’s been trod by Spears and Winehouse?

“No,” she says. “I know myself well enough. As soon as I feel remotely depressed I’m checked into a clinic and having intensive therapy. I’ve seen enough people fall apart to know that’s not going to happen to me.”

It’s about time we had some smart celebrities who know when to check themselves before they wreck themselves.

Emotional depression along with economic recession?

suicide rates compared to employment ratesCNN has a story looking into whether suicides increase as the economy falls into a recession and investors begin to lose thousands of dollars in the stock market. According to a chart by the NIH & Bureau of Labor Statistics, there seems to be a correlation. Here are the latest high-profile suicides that seem to have been prompted by the economic downturn:

  • Steven Good, a chairman and CEO of Sheldon Good & Co., a major U.S. real estate auction company, may have shot himself, according to police.
  • Adolf Merckle, a 74-year-old German billionaire who was ranked the 94th richest person in the world by Forbes magazine, killed himself by walking in front of a train. According to the CNN article, “in recent months his empire had been near collapse.”
  • Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, a 65-year-old French investor, killed himself after losing $1.4 billion in the Ponzi scheme that Bernard Madoff ran.
  • Kirk Stephenson, 47-year-old English financier  and COO of Olivant Ltd., jumped in front of a train in September (the real climax in the economic collapse).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates more than 32,000 people commit suicide each year but public health experts expect an increase upwards to an additional 1200 suicides because of the economic climate. Here are a few more stats that are worth reading:

  • Calls to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline went from 412,768 in 2007 up to 540,041 in 2008.
  • Unemployed people are two to four times more likely to kill themselves than those who are employed.

I have to admit, I found that following paragraph interesting:

So what about these wealthy and powerful men who have recently killed themselves? Mental health experts say it’s impossible to say why they did it, but they say that people who kill themselves have an underlying psychological issue, such as depression or bipolar disorder, so it’s not only about the money.

So I pose a question: Do all those who commit suicide have a mental illness? Or is it possible to kill oneself without being mentally ill?

The Art of Distraction

I babysat the 21-month-old son of a friend on Thursday. He's an adorable, sweet little kid. Very affable and social. With the addition of a new brother, he's been craving the attention that he used to have as an only child so he's always happy when someone takes the time to sit and play with him.

His mother had to go to court to contest a traffic ticket and she took the baby with her so I offered my (free) babysitting services. I'm not a babysitter and I normally don't offer to babysit kids alone because I'm not very good with them and most young children don't like me much. However, I've really grown to love my friend's son—we'll call him Danny—and felt like I could take care of him without too many problems.

We were upstairs on the second floor in his bedroom and I talked to his mother about a few logistics before she left. Finally, she kissed Danny goodbye and headed down the stairs. Since Danny's only 21 months, he needs to be carried down the stairs. When he saw his mother disappear, he began crying (much to my surprise and much to my dismay). My first thought was, Oh great. Now, he's crying for his mommy. This isn't going to be as easy as I thought.

I tried to sit down with him on my lap in the bedroom but he was extremely fidgety and got up and began running to the edge of the steps. Fearful of a fall (remember I don't have much babysitting experience!), I grabbed him, picked him up, and shut the door to the bedroom. Realizing this meant mommy wasn't coming back right away, he cried even harder. Now I was really at a loss of what to do.

I saw a little toy helicopter that he had been playing with earlier. The helicopter made noises and I tried to hand it to him and pressed all sorts of buttons to amuse him. He wasn't fazed. Danny kept right on crying.

Suddenly feeling desperate, my next thought was, I can't have this kid crying until his mother comes back. She's going to think I hurt the poor child. I searched around the room and found a teddy bear and handed it to him. He wasn't interested in that either. Finally, my eyes fell upon a toy set up like a two-level parking lot with a car ramp that twisted around to the ground. Several small cars sat on top of the lot. Remembering Danny loved to pick up cars and hand them to people one by one, I tried the tactic as a last-ditch effort.

I picked up the first car and held it open in the palm of my hand. He kept crying but looked down at it. I grabbed a second car. His crying began to die down and he began to look at the two cars with curiosity. I snatched another car. He stopped crying and simply looked at me with a blank stare, wondering what I'd do next. I picked up another car and held them flat out on my hands for a few moments, letting him take in the number of growing vehicles. Finally, he gave me a little smile. I started rolling a car up and down his belly and he began giggling.

Problem solved. We stayed busy until his mother came home. I expected him to run and cling to his mother after she got home but he gave her a quick glance and wanted me to keep playing with him because he was having so much fun. That was pretty satisfying and felt like my first solo babysitting gig had been a success.

Just like I'd distracted Danny from the sadness of his mother's disappearance, I'm finding that a lot of people in my life have been trying to distract me from the sadness and emotional pain that have been plaguing me lately.

Continue reading “The Art of Distraction”