Heroes of Hope: Building Resilience for America’s Children

Reposted from an earlier date

What do Jamie Lee Curtis, Cyndi Lauper, Goldie Hawn, Hershel Walker and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius have in common?  They have all been involved in shining a light on the importance of every child’s mental health.

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gary M. Blau, Ph.D., who is involved in wide variety of programs designed to improve the lives of children and families and who has been working to raise awareness about children’s mental health.

Tomorrow is National Children’s Awareness Day’s “Heroes of Hope Tribute” in Washington D.C. and I spoke with Gary about who is a “hero of hope” and why they are so important to our children.

I asked Dr. Blau to explain  the “Heroes of Hope” Tribute. In a fast and furious conversation brimming with information, I learned that bringing awareness to children’s mental health has been evolving for years.  This year SAMSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) has enlisted scores of individuals, agencies, organizations and supporters to help raise awareness about children’s mental health.   Cyndi Lauper, for example, will be recognized this year for work on behalf of homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth through her foundation, the True Colors Fund.

It’s people like Cyndi who, along with others, such as celebrities, dignitaries, teachers, therapists, parents and neighbors, have helped children faced with trauma build resilience.  These caring people, “heroes of hope” have made a difference in a child’s life.

Dr. Blau related an example of a teen in Tennessee who’d struggled with trauma and subsequent mental health challenges.  With the support of a teacher and a caring counselor, her “heroes of hope,” this youngster is confronting the challenges she’s faced with resilience and will tell her story at a National Children’s Awareness Day Event.

What are the biggest mental health challenges children are facing today?

According to Dr. Blau, 1 in 5 (20%) of children face some kind of mental health challenge.  These challenges include a wide range of difficulties.  Children might face relatively straight- forward adjustment disorders to disorders with more complicated features, such as anxiety, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or attachment disorder.

“One in 10 children face more serious challenges,” said Dr. Blau.  These serious mental health conditions impact a child’s ability to function at home, school or in the community.  Many are involved in mental health services.

Dr. Blau emphasized that there is hope.  With the right kind of support and intervention children can and do recover.

This year, SAMSA will highlight issues that arise when children experience trauma.  Trauma can occur through abuse, life threatening injuries, violence in families or communities.  In the ACE study (a study on adverse childhood experiences), cited by Dr.Blau, the relationship between the number of childhood traumatic experiences and problems in adulthood, such as heart disease, physical illness and mental health problems, was clear.

Dr. Blau went on to say that the prevalence of childhood exposure to trauma is more pronounced than you would think, with 26% percent of children witnessing a traumatic event before the age of four.

How To Get Involved

Dr. Blau shared numerous links, including a link to SAMSA’s website, which has opportunities to engage in a community conversation and instructions on how to become a hero of hope. Through the website, you can learn how to work in your community, talk about children’s mental health, locate resources and become involved with educating others.

If you are concerned about the status of a particular child, whether your own, a neighbor’s or one you know in some other way, your pediatrician or school guidance are excellent resources to help you determine if there is an issue and how to help this child.

Contact a suicide Hotline for times when you are worried about a child being depressed, suicidal or self-injurious: 1-800-273-8255.

You can find strategies to cope with the anxiety and pressures that come with parenting or being a caregiver for a child who has mental health challenges in my new book, The Stress Response and by clicking here to sign up for more of my tips and and here for podcasts using DBT strategies to improve how you feel.

For more of my interview with Dr. Blau, click here.

Helpful Links

Awareness Day Web page: http://www.samhsa.gov/children/index.asp

List of Awareness Day Collaborating Organizations: http://www.samhsa.gov/children/participants.asp

2011 SAMHSA Short Report: http://www.samhsa.gov/children/SAMHSA_Short_Report_2011.pdf

Community Conversation: http://www.samhsa.gov/children/cc_home.asp

How to be a Hero of Hope: http://www.samhsa.gov/children/cc_howto_hero.asp

Blog post about the Twitter chat with the Surgeon General of the United States that Dr. Blau mentioned with links to the Storify archives of the chat: http://blog.samhsa.gov/2012/05/02/awareness-day-2012-twitter-chat-highlights-cmhchat/

Suicide hotline: 1-800-273-TALK

About  Gary M. Blau, Ph.D.

Dr. Gary M. Blau is a Clinical Psychologist and is currently the Chief of the Child, Adolescent and Family Branch of the Center for Mental Health Services.  In this role he provides national leadership for children’s mental health and is responsible for implementing the Comprehensive Community Mental Health Program, the Circles of Care Program, the National Children’s Mental Health Social Marketing Campaign, the National Technical Assistance Programs, and a wide variety of other programs designed to improve the lives of children and families.

Through the Director of the Center for Mental Health Services and the SAMHSA Administrator, he is also responsible for translating the President’s New Freedom Commission Report for children and families, and for implementing the children’s portion of the CMHS Action Plan.

5 Steps to Change Angry Feelings

Do spiteful or resentful thoughts sometimes take over your life?  Or do you find yourself short tempered and in a cycle of lashing out at others?

Painful feelings such as anger, are often associated with worries about negative consequences– say that an important goal will be blocked or that you will fail, be criticized, hurt or abandoned.  The intensity of your feelings and worries can leave you stuck in a cycle of angry feelings, with resentment and rage fueled by worry, spiteful thoughts and memories of hurtful experiences.

Continue reading “5 Steps to Change Angry Feelings” »

Mindfulness for Work and School Stress

Appreciating how the brain works when experiencing stress is critical to understanding how to reduce recurrent stress in certain situations, such as at school or at work. 

Chronic Stress

In a study of the effects of chronic stress, Eduardo Dias-Ferreira and colleagues found that stress responses become habitual, over time.  This means that we develop a habit of becoming stressed in certain situations and respond to those situations with the same stressed behaviors repeatedly.  If you are someone who experiences stress and anxiety about completing school papers, taking tests, participating in classes, attending meetings or completing work tasks, your stress and anxiety may be habitual.  You may also be reacting to these situations out of your habitual stress, which means your actions are unlikely to be effective.

Research on Meditation

There is a growing body of research that shows that meditation and mindfulness alter how the brain works.  Dr. Sarah Lazar, a research scientist at Harvard Medical School’s Massachusetts General Hospital, presented a study at Neuroscience 2005, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.  Her research found that meditation had a measurable effect on the brain that lasted beyond the act of meditating.  This indicates that meditation and mindfulness may have a positive impact on day to day life.

Mindfulness Exercises to Reduce School and Work Stress

Mindfulness is about learning to focus attention, which is a necessary skill when unlearning negative, habituated responses.  There are hundreds and thousands of mindfulness exercises that can help to focus attention and decrease stress.  To combat work or school stress try breathing exercises, which can be done anytime and anyplace.  Other mindfulness activities include becoming aware of your body position and relaxing muscles that have tightened due to tension, creating a mantra (“I am calm”, “rise above it”), or noticing thoughts and labeling them as “just thoughts” as they come in and out of your mind.  

Practice

The three key factors in utilizing mindfulness effectively to reduce stress are to try different activities until you find what works for you, practice bringing your attention back, once you get distracted, and practice often and in various situations.  It is essential to practice mindfulness exercises regularly.  When you are practicing mindfulness, you will find that your attention wanders.  Likely it will wander back to those stressful and anxiety producing thoughts.  When this happens, just notice it and gently bring your mind back to your mindfulness exercise.  Repeat this process over and over as often as necessary.