We already know that in the U.S. we are in crisis with children’s mental and physical health. One in two children or 54.2 percent have a physical or mental health problem. This is a crisis. Parents are worried about their kids and they are searching for answers but they aren’t finding them.
The 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health data published online in JAMA Pediatrics indicated that as many as 1 in 6 U.S. children between the ages of 6 and 17 has a treatable mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety problems or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The same study also found that nearly half of children with these disorders did not receive counseling or treatment from a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or clinical social worker.
And children’s mental health is a global issue. In Europe, according to research, Anxiety disorders are common (8%), followed by depressive disorders (5.2 %) and ADHD (4.5%) amongst children under age 18. This study found that it is very important to address children’s mental health early and a lot could be done to improve mental health for children between the ages of 6 and 11 before adolescence. And specifically, children’s mental health improved when the parents were more educated about their child’s behaviors and why and they struggled. Across Europe, children’s mental health improved when they had access to care.
The rate of suicide among children and young adults ages 10 to 24 years old climbed 56% between 2007 and 2017, according to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In my almost 30 years of working with children, I have seen anxiety, depression, autism, social skill issues, and psychiatric medication use skyrocket. The CDC reports a five-fold increase in the number of children under 18 on psychostimulants from 1988-1994 to 2007–2010, with the most recent rate of 4.2 percent. And even with so many kids on psychiatric medications, kids are stressed and depressed. When the average age of onset of an anxiety disorder is age 6, our kids and their families are hurting.
Children’s mental health is worsening across the globe. We can do better.
Kids Needed More
When I started almost three decades ago, I was eager to help kids with all that I had been trained for. Quickly, I realized that I didn’t have enough in my toolkit to really give children the help they needed to regulate their behavior, emotions, social skills, and body. I had to dig on my own to find another way to help these kids focus, control their emotions, and do better in school. So, off I went to look at some microfiche in our university library, and guess what? There were loads of evidence-based therapies that I’d never heard of even in my doctoral program! Even things that parents could do at home, such as cooking healthy meals or getting off the couch and doing brain exercises where kids had to cross one arm over to the other side, so they could be more focused, process faster, and not be so clumsy.
And that is where I first learned of neurofeedback. What! An evidence-based and effective therapy that has thousands of studies that helps kids and adults with everything from ADHD, anxiety, depression, autism, ocd, PTSD, concussions, pain, and many more issues. This therapy often worked better than medication. Why hadn’t I learned about this before? Well, I dove deep into neurofeedback and many other natural therapies that were PROVEN to help children’s mental health.
I learned that neurofeedback had tens of thousands of research studies, many that were peer reviewed, but I’d only known of it as a therapy for stress reduction and little else. All I’d ever heard about in graduate school was psychiatric medications. When I learned about how neurofeedback worked, and how easy it was to retrain our brainwaves (which impacts the biochemical activity of the brain), I was truly shocked that something with so much evidence wasn’t being used by the masses.
How Neurofeedback Works
Neurofeedback works by reinforcing an individual to change their own brain waves through the process of measurement and reinforcement with the use of computers. Another way to think about neurofeedback is that it is like working out and building your muscles. Everytime you go to the gym, you build muscle and it is the same with neurofeedback in that after repeated practice of a healthy rhythm, your brain learns to stay in a focused and calm state. And I found that neurofeedback was just one of many evidence-based therapies that could support mental health.
I began to use these therapies with what came to be thousands of families over these three decades. Consistent with the research, therapies such as neurofeedback, biofeedback, nutrition, and psychotherapy were making a difference not just for the kids I was working with but for children all over the world but every family had access to this information and when they did, it is hard to find a provider.
We know more and more children and families are struggling to find the right care. I wish I could say that Kayla’s story was unusual but it is the norm. Caring parents searching for care and willing to do anything that would help their child.
How 12-Year-Old Kayla Beat Anxiety Using Proven Holistic Therapies
After seeing four therapists, Kayla and her parents found their way to us. Kayla, a tween girl, first experienced anxiety as a young child. The anxiety quickly morphed into OCD. Her parents sought help from school and then from a private therapist that specialized in anxiety who said she could help with the OCD even though she wasn’t a specialist. She went from therapist to therapist, even ones that said they specialized in OCD with no success. The OCD steadily worsened. A family friend recommended our office after noticing Kayla’s obsessive thinking and compulsive rituals had reached the point that she couldn’t sit next to anyone. She couldn’t ride on the bus, or in a car. She couldn’t even sit in her classroom seat if someone was next to her. Some days, her obsessive thinking and anxiety paralyzed her so much that she couldn’t even make it to school. Kayla’s parents were besides themselves. They went to therapy and they did whatever they could think of including medication but nothing was working.
When Kayla got to our center, things were pretty rough for her and the family. She would pace around her room at night, struggle to get to bed and then practically have to be dragged out her bed in the morning. The whole family was in disarray because Kayla couldn’t take the bus and that affected the younger kids’ whole morning routine. The school was doing what they could with a special education IEP in place with support from the school social worker, extra breaks, and availability of a different classroom because of her contamination fears when next to someone.
Understandably, Kayla’s mom and dad cautiously came in for a QEEG Brain Map, which has the ability to actually see the health of the brain. Something that could help not just pinpoint Kayla’s diagnosis and guide treatment but could do the same for anyone struggling with a mental health issue.
Kayla began both neurofeedback to calm her nervous system combined with Exposure and Response Therapy (ERP) to gain the skills to “talk back” to OCD allowing her to tune out her obsessions and resist the compulsions. With neurofeedback, she began to gain control over her thoughts. Within a short amount of time, Kayla and her parents noticed less obsessive thinking and questioning. She wasn’t tense all the time. She could finally sit with her family at dinner, enjoy activities, and was sleeping again. Most importantly, for the first time, Kayla was in control of her worries, obsessions, and compulsions. She didn’t know that was even possible. Kayla progressed well after several months of therapy. She continues to be free from obsessive thinking today.
In conclusion, children are in crisis. Sucicide rates are at an all time high and increasing quickly. Emergency rooms have become where families in a mental health crisis land and police officers are spending 50 percent of their time working with those in crisis. We talk about early intervention and access to mental health care but families can’t find proven treatments and quality mental health care.But there is a different way.
If you’re a parent that is struggling with a child with focus issues, anxiety, academic difficulties, mood problems, or trouble getting along with others, then there is HOPE. That’s why the mission of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health is to educate families about these issues and show you how to reduce or reverse them.
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