Thursday, November 13, 2014

Toys for Depressed Kids

Shopping for toys during the holiday season always takes a bit of resourcefulness. You need to learn what’s new, what’s out, what’s flying off the shelves - and then carefully consider whether your purchase will add to your child’s entertainment stockpile. But if you have a child with special needs, especially one who is struggling with depression, finding the right toy can feel even more daunting.
Though there are many different kinds of games and toys, here are 8 categories that I teach parents to consider thinking about when holiday shopping. These themes help with healing and are also super fun too. 
  1. Seek out toys that teach about feelings. Though most children find it a challenge to label feelings, depressed children struggle even more in identifying and expressing them. Toys like Eggspressions, Kimochis and Moody Monsters Memory Game invite depressed kids to see the subtle differences between and among emotions. They also teach how actual expressions look on others’ faces as well as their own. Playing with these toys will help your child learn how mad is different than irritated. How sad is different than lonely. Once children learn these subtle differences, they can better label what they’re feeling and talk about it.
  2. Get artsy. Research shows that the expressive arts, like drawing, painting and creating music not only lift mood, they help children express and manage feeling states. Old-school toys that encourage artistic expression like crayons, paints, clay are great items. So is getting your child a musical instrument. And don’t forget the new-school digital ways of getting art and music into your child’s life with downloadable apps and computer software like Toca Band, MoMA Artlab, Garage Band or iDraw, for example.
  3. Choose problem solving toys: Depression can cause distractibility, lower reasoning and interrupt flow of thinking – parts of the brain area called “executive functioning.” Toys and games that challenge your child to find solutions, tap judgment or use logic will help sharpen these important cognitive skills. Classic games like Chess, Othello, Battleship and Trimonos are terrific board games. Digital ones like Star Wars Pit Droids, Angry Birds, and Bubble Ball are fun and educational too.
  4. Pick games that build resiliency: Games that teach depressed children how to be resilientunder pressure can improve self-esteem and reduce hopelessness. Consider classic toys like Jenga, Don’t Break the Ice, Don’t Spill the Beans, Topple, Kerplunk, Crocodile Dentist, Flinchand Hot Potato. Shop for educational and gaming apps for your child that likes tech-y things over old-school games by searching online at stores like Amazon or Toys-R-Us.
  5. Toys that relax: Toys and games that incorporate color and lights increase feel-good endorphins and are instant mood lifters. Classic toys like Lite Brite, Melissa and Doug’s Light Box, Rain Tubes, Sand Windows, Water Volcanoes, Sand Play and Lava Lamps are home run toys. Even a simple jar of bubbles can teach children how to deep breathe, offering a space for fun and relaxation skill building. Night Lights like Cloud B Tranquil Turtle, Rainbow Bulbs or Uncle Milton’s Shooting Stars are soothing as are Aromatherapy Stuffed Animals like Sonoma Lavender Bear or Cozy Plush Microwavable Animals.
  6. Don’t forget the cape: Any toys or games that encourage pretend play are wonderful ways to encourage imagination for emotional and physical release. Research shows that pretend play reduces anxiety and depression, reduces pain, improves coping and regulates feelings states. Be it Disney princesses or Marvel Avengers, girly dolls or action figures, playing house or walking on the moon, pretend play is great, healing fun.
  7. Go for silly over seriousLaughter is great medicine, and scientific studies show that having silly experiences raises the feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin. Some of my favorites are Duck Duck Bruce, Pass the Pigs, Slamwich, Gooey Louie, and What’s in Ned’s Head. And never underestimate the giggle power of miniature hats and stick on mustaches. They rank top of the list for children I work with.
  8. Games that spark storytelling: Getting depressed children to talk about their struggles isn’t always easy. But the built-in rules of certain games allow children to safely share. For your depressed child games like Tell Tale, MadLibs, SketchIt, Ravensburger’s Tell-A Story Games, IlluStory’s Make Your Own Story and Rory’s Story Cubes can be a springboard for emotional expression.
These special categories of toys and games give depressed children a healthy way of distancing themselves from sadness. 

When you sit and play with your depressed child, your time and attention helps with their healing.

Remember, for children, toys are their words and play is their conversation.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Psychology Offers Tips as Ebola Concerns Mount

What the Public Needs to Know

Q. What scares people the most about a threat from a natural disaster, contagious disease or terrorist attack? Are fear and anxiety a normal response?
A. Experts on public health and risk perception say that fear about catastrophic incidents often originates from a feeling of lack of control and a perceived inability to prevent the problem or threat. Some level of anxiety is constructive in that it motivates people to take appropriate action (assuming such actions are available and recommended). But without any recommended course of action, anxiety around these threats has the potential to become debilitating.
Psychologists who study people’s reactions to health, safety and environmental risks say fear is a normal response to an unpredictable threat. Anxiety is also a normal response to ambiguous situations over which one has little or no control. Anxiety about the future and fears of terrorism were quite normal after 9/11, and some people continue to feel anxious about the future.
Q. What can people do to lessen their anxiety about a health risk or environmental threat?
A. People can keep the actual degree of risk they are facing in its proper perspective and create a plan just in case. Psychologists who specialize in managing stress and anxiety say that people who feel some sense of control while dealing with a scary, unknown situation handle the unexpected better.
Q. How can parents communicate serious health threats to children?
A. According to developmental psychologists, parents should explain clearly what is known about the situation. They should present strategies for eliminating or preventing the feared situation. This should include education and discussion that increase a sense of feeling of control and knowing that actions will lead to certain results.
Child and adolescent experts also say that older children can help their younger siblings and peers feel less anxiety by reassuring them that they are not alone in the situation.
Psychologists who researched responses after 9/11 found that if parents were distressed about terrorism, they conveyed that information directly and indirectly to their children, which in turn raised the distress levels of their offspring. Adolescents’ distress following 9/11 was also associated with perceived parental unavailability to discuss the attacks, suggesting that a key to understanding parents’ influences on adolescents’ adjustment may lie in parents’ ability to manage their own distress and voice their concerns appropriately. Psychologists and other mental health professionals can play a role in helping parents manage their own distress and providing guidance on how best to respond to their children.
Q. When does a person’s fear over this kind of threat become a problem that may need treatment?
A. If a person is having trouble with daily functioning and regular routines, then a visit to a credentialed mental health care provider is advisable. A clinician will assess the duration of the problem and the array and severity of symptoms, etc. Anxiety about an ambiguous future is a natural and normal emotion, and mental health experts say that it is important not to pathologize normal responses to potentially traumatic experiences. But when such anxiety interferes with a person’s normal day-to-day functioning, that person should seek help from a qualified mental health professional.
There will not be one universal reaction to a catastrophic event. But it is important to recognize that an individual’s degree of emotional response will not necessarily be proportional to the degree of exposure, amount of loss or proximity to an illness. As noted above, mental health professionals can help individuals manage their own distress and provide guidance on how best to respond to their children.
For more, please link to the American Psychological Association for more

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Mental Illness Awareness Week

October 5th -11th 2014 is Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) in the United States and Canada. 
Since 1990, mental health advocates across North America have joined together during the first full week of October to sponsor awareness, create outreach and provide screenings in the name of mental health.
Also sponsored this week is  National Depression Screening Day on October 9th and World Mental Health Day on October 10th. 
Mental health, a component of well-being, is just as essential as physical health and spiritual health. Learn how to take action, find support and dilute stigma by reaching out for more information here.

Monday, September 15, 2014

How to Find a Good Therapist

One of the most common questions I'm asked is, "How can I find a good therapist?"

Well, it's a multi-step process, so let's get going.

Types of Therapists
First, it's important to think about the type of therapist you think is best for your presenting issues. There are many kinds of mental health therapists, but sometimes understanding "who does what" can be confusing. Here is a list to help identify the specialties and degrees therapists can hold.


Psychologists generally have a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.), or Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) and must complete at least four years of post graduate school, however, only those who have been licensed can call themselves Psychologists. Licensed practicing psychologists are specifically trained in the mind and behavior as well as diagnosis, assessment and treatment of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Generally speaking, most psychologists do not prescribe medication.

Social Workers

Clinical Social Workers (C.S.W.) usually have earned at least a Masters' Degree, which is two years of graduate school, and some Social Workers obtain a doctoral degree (D.S.W. or Ph.D.). Clinical Social Workers credentials may vary by state, but these are the most common: B.S.W. (Bachelor's of Social Work), M.S.W. (Master's of Social Work), A.C.S.W. (Academy of Certified Social Workers), or D.C.S.W. (Diplomate of Clinical Social Work). Although there are exceptions, most licensed clinical social workers generally have an "L" in front of their degree (L.C.S.W.) communicating that they are a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Clinical Social Workers also receive training in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders. Their goal is to enhance and maintain physical, psychological, and social functioning in who they treat.


A Psychiatrist completes a medical degree (M.D.) like any other physician, followed by a four-year psychiatry specialty. Psychiatrists prescribe medication yet sometimes do psychotherapy with patients. 

Marriage Family Therapists, Mental Health Counselors & Professional Counselors

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (L.M.F.T.), Mental Health Counselors (MHC) and Professional Counselors (L.P.C.) usually have two years of graduate school and have earned at least a Masters' Degree such as: M.A. (Master of Arts), M.S. (Master of Science) or M.Ed. (Master of Education). Marriage and Family Therapists have additional specialized training in the area of family therapy.

Certified Counselors

Certified Counselors are typically trained in drug or alcohol abuse specialties. A Certified Addiction Counselor (C.A.C.) or a Certified Alcohol Counselor, (C.A.C.) may have a I, II, or III added to their degree signifying the level of training in counseling (CAC-I, for example). A C.A.C. Counselor may or may not have a master's degree. Counselors are trained for supportive therapy. C.A.C's work within the field of alcoholism and substance abuse, providing education, consultation, counseling, aftercare, recovery and advocacy.

Religious/Theology/Pastoral Counselors

These are counselors who are clergy, pastors or who have a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree, or a Doctorate in Theology (Th.D.) from a seminary or rabbinical school, with additional training in therapy. These spiritual counselors are trained in both psychology and theology and thus can address psychological, religious and spiritual issues.

Counseling Nurses

Psychiatric Nurses and Nurse Practitioners comprise a growing segment of mental health treatment professionals. They display the credentials R.N. (Registered Nurse), R.N.P. (Registered Nurse Practitioner) or M.S.N. (Masters of Science in Nursing). A Psychiatric Nurse is a registered nurse with a master's degree who has been trained in individual, group, and/or family psychotherapy. The Psychiatric Nurse and the Nurse Practitioner generally prescribe medication.

From Word of Mouth To Yellow Pages

Now that you know the kind of therapists to work with, how do you choose one?Well, here are a few ways that can provide leads to a good therapist.

  • Word of mouth: Asking a friend or relative that you trust can be a great way of finding a reliable therapist. When a clinician is highly regarded, there is usually a buzz in the community about him or her.
  • Professional referrals: Contacting your general physician, or inquiring with pediatrician, school guidance and special service staff if you're looking for someone to work with your child are good ideas. Contacting local psychological, psychiatric or counseling organizations can be very helpful in pointing you in a direction as well.
  • Online resources: Many professional organizations and grassroots organizations offer referral resources. There are also mental health websites like Psychology Today's Therapist Directory that can help you narrow down a search.
  • Insurance company: Your insurance company carrier often has an online search engine that can allow you to find a mental health specialist. Not very computer savvy, just call them directly and ask them to give you some referrals. 
  • Religious organizations: Many churches and temples have outreach programs that can help you find a therapist in the community. 
  • Yellow Pages: Many times I get calls from people who "look me up" in the Yellow Pages. With nowhere else to turn, people cold-call therapists with the hopes of finding a good practitioner. But, in truth, this experience can be frustrating and may lead you down a bumpy road of contacting therapists who don't truly specialize in what you need. If possible, try one of the other strategies listed above to help you find a good therapist.

The Initial Phone Call
Once you have a few names, find the time to call each one and talk on the phone with him or her. 

You can get a great feel for a professional during this informal chat. If you make a connection on the phone, arrange for an appointment to consult with the therapist. I call this "the meet and greet" consult where I get to meet the potential patient, assess the symptoms and issues and make sure that my training and expertise are appropriate for the necessary treatment. 

This is a time where the potential patient gets to know me as well, how I will work and also learns about my approach to treatment and the parameters of therapy. Though comfort and connection are necessary factors, so too are making sure that the therapist of your choice is educated, seasoned and a specialist in what you are seeking.

Questions to AskMost therapists will welcome the opportunity to answer any questions you may have. Here are some of the most important ones to consider:

1. What's your professional training and degree?

2. Are you a licensed mental health practitioner?

3. What theoretical school of thought do you follow?

4. How long are the sessions?

5. What is the cost of each session?

5. How does insurance work with mental health therapy?

6. What's your policy on cancelled appointments?

7. Have you been in therapy yourself? If so, how long?

8. How do I reach you in the event of an emergency or crisis? 

9. Do you receive regular supervision on your cases or belong to a peer supervision group?

10. What professional organizations do you belong to?

Enjoy the Process

Once these bases are covered and you settle into treatment, you should slowly begin to feel connected to your therapist. In time, talk therapy will help widen your awareness and help you make meaningful life changes.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day

Every 40 seconds someone dies by suicide. 

Every 41 seconds someone's left to make sense of it.

That's over 1 million people who die by suicide each year. And millions more who grieve and mourn the loss of their loved one.

Suicide is THE most preventable kind of death. Education, resources, intervention and outreach can help children and adults who struggle with staggering sadness, hopelessness and despair.

World Suicide Prevention Day is September 10th sponsored by The International Association for Suicide Prevention, The World Health Organization, The United Nations and many more grass root health organizations and agencies world-wide.

This is the 10th anniversary of the World Suicide Prevention Day. Ten years of research, ten years of prevention, ten years of education and dissemination of information. This year's theme is "Suicide Prevention: One World Connected across the Globe."
  • To learn about the warning signs for suicidal behavior go here.
  • For suicide resources in the USA use this link - and for global resources go here.
And remember, there's always someone ready to talk to you any day, any time at 1-800-273-TALK

Friday, August 01, 2014

Gallup Poll: State of Well-Being in the U.S.

A recent 2014 Gallup Poll cited levels of well-being in the USA. Research was done with over 85 thousand Americans and focused on 5 levels of well-being: Purpose, Social, Financial, Community and Physical. Below are more detailed definitions of these categories.

  • Purpose well-being is composed of questions about having an inspiring leader, daily activity, goals, and strengths.
  • Social well-being includes questions about relationships with friends and family, personal time, and received encouragement and support.
  • Financial well-being is made up of questions about standard of living, ability to afford basic necessities, and financial worry.
  • Community well-being includes questions about community pride, involvement, and safety and security.
  • Physical well-being includes questions related to alcohol, drug, and tobacco use; current disease burden and past diagnoses; exercise; and eating habits.
Gallup reports that half of Americans are thriving in only one well-being element or none at all. And fewer than one in five U.S. adults are thriving in four or five elements, which indicates that many individuals are not experiencing well-being. 

When it comes to enhancing your own well-being, remember that there are aspects you can and cannot control. For example, while you may not be able to make more money to increase your financial well-being, but you can improve your social, community, physical and purpose well-being. 

Set realistic goals and make sure to appreciate the meaningful connections you experience.