Are these signs of mental illness in kids? Or normal responses to childhood trauma?

Someone tweeted this out the other day — “Mental Illness in Kids: The Surprising Warning Signs”. The signs for pre-school and early elementary school-age kids included:

  • Behavior problems in preschool or daycare
  • Hyperactivity way beyond what the other kids are doing
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Excessive fear, worrying, or crying
  • Extreme disobedience or aggression
  • Lots of temper tantrums all the time
  • Persistent difficulty separating from a parent (if it goes on for months).

There were two other lists — one for grade-schoolers and another for tweens and teens.

Not once in the article was childhood trauma mentioned as a reason for any of these behaviors. Many child trauma experts are now saying that what psychologists and psychiatrists call “disorders” are behaviors that are reasonable, normal responses to toxic stress caused by trauma during childhood. These traumas include severe and chronic trauma, such as emotional, sexual and physical abuse, neglect; family dysfunctions, such as domestic violence, parents who are alcoholic or addicted to other drugs, a family member incarcerated or diagnosed mentally ill, and losing a parent; and community dysfunction, such as violent neighborhoods or bullying. It can also include traumatic events, such as being a victim of war, natural disaster, a life-threatening disease or accident.

Labeling children’s fear, hyperactivity, excessive disobedience or nightmares as “disorders” has people reaching for mood- and mind-altering drugs as a first and, sometimes, only resort, especially with kids in foster care and group and residential homes.

“Sometimes the kids are just doing what human beings are wired to do under immense traumatic stress. We just don’t understand it, and call it mental illness,” says Charles Wilson, senior director of the  Chadwick Center for Children & Families at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, CA.

 Wilson was one of several presenters at the “Psychotropic Summit” that took place Monday and Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

The real name of the summit was:  Because

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Are there really Democrat v. Republican parenting styles?

With the Republican and Democratic conventions upon us, and the U.S. presidential campaign in full swing, dug into the archives for this amazing visualization of “right” and “left” that British data journalist David McCandless and information artist Stefanie Posavec put together in 2009 for his book The Visual Miscellaneum. The “Right” and “Left” refer to U.S., British and French politics, as you can see in the top strip of “Parties”.   

In 2009, McCandless made this observation in his explanation of the visual:

Researching this showed me that, despite my inevitable journalistic lean to the ‘left’, I am actually a bit more ‘right’ than I suspected.

The pieces that intrigued me most are the parenting styles, enlarged here.

Instilling fear in a child as a method of parenting, if interpreted negatively by a child, is considered one aspect of emotional abuse, which is one of the more damaging types of child maltreatment, according to the CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study). According to marriage and family therapist Felice Block on “Children who experience emotional abuse feel that they are responsible for the behavior of their parents and that if only they were more polite, better students or better children, than their parents would be more loving.”

But is there really a difference between left and right parenting styles? Is fear as an element of parenting exclusive to a particular political point of view?

That hasn’t been my experience. I’ve met quite a few people grew up in households filled with chronic intimidation and fear, and whose parents were registered Democrats.

In Alaska, trying to create a “new” normal in a place where childhood trauma is too normal

[Editor’s note: This very moving essay by Chantelle Pence, a family advocate for the Copper River Basin Child Advocacy Center and a consultant  at Copper River Consulting in Gakona, Alaska, originally appeared on the Anchorage Daily News web site.]

It was autumn. The time of harvest. I walked with my dad to the ridge to target practice with a .270 rifle. I got the target in my sights and pulled the trigger. I don’t know if I hit my mark, because as soon as the gun sounded, an unexpected feeling was triggered in me. My dad called my name as I took off stumbling and running back to the house. I was embarrassed. I was confused. I was heartbroken. I heard my own thoughts in my mind. “He didn’t have time to change his mind. … He didn’t have time to change his mind …”

The sound of the gunshot and the speed of the bullet brought up feelings that I didn’t even know I had. My young friend had shot himself just days before my birthday, earlier that year. I remember waking up to the news. I remember the next day. My mom hugged me and cried while I stood numb. I told myself that if I didn’t think about it, maybe it wouldn’t be true. I didn’t cry until the funeral, and then in the fall when I fired the gun.

Nearly two decades later, I found my own son with a gun, contemplating thoughts of suicide. I banged on the window of the cabin until he let me in. I took the gun but he wouldn’t let me take him. It was too late for that. He had been hurt too badly. The time to take him in my arms and love him well had passed. He was a young man who thought he had nothing to live for. When he was 10 he told me that he felt like he was in a brick room and he couldn’t see a way out. That was the first time he made reference to suicide. I didn’t know how to help him out of the space I had helped put him in. If I knew then what I know now …

I now know that what was once considered normal, for the time and place I was raised (and reared my own children in), was creating adverse childhood experiences (ACE). Studies have shown that adverse

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Adverse childhood experiences affect unemployment; Maté: childhood trauma is universal template for addiction; “Runaway Girl” — from street life to MBA

Most of the talk about the CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) focuses on the link between ACEs and adult onset of chronic disease; depression, suicide and other mental health issues; violence and being a victim of violence. There’s been less attention on the finding that the higher a person’s ACE score, the increased risk of absenteeism from work, serious financial problems and serious job problems. Now there’s evidence that ACEs affect unemployment, too.

When researchers from the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion examined the data from ACE surveys in five states, which included 17,469 people between the ages of 18 and 64, they found that the 2009 unemployment rate of men and women was “significantly higher among those who reported having had any ACEs than among those who reported no ACEs”, according to the study published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. Two-thirds of the people in the study had at least one ACEs; 15.1 % of men and 19.3 % of women reported having had four or more ACEs.

Some folks have already taken this information to heart.

When Washington State did its own ACE survey in 2009, it found a “stunning fact”, says Laura Porter, director of ACE partnerships in the state’s Department of Social and Health Service: The survey revealed that “52% of functional disability is attributable to ACES.” Because of how much ACEs contribute to the list of barriers to employment, there’s now a push to integrate ACE concepts into the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, which helps people with disabilities find work. Many of the state’s communities have already integrated ACE concepts into public health, schools and juvenile justice.

On a national level, ReadyNation, formerly the Partnership for America’s Economic Success, has

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With kids’ school behavior problems coming from home and neighborhood, schools, home visits can help

You could say that the graphic above, from the Pew Center on the States Home Visiting Campaign, demonstrates the need for a community approach to preventing and reducing child trauma. It’s going to take all parts of our communities — home visiting programs as well as schools, pediatricians, the faith-based community, recreation, clinics, hospitals, La Leche and other breast-feeding support groups, law enforcement, juvenile justice, homeless shelters, courts, etc. — to achieve this.

Schools are getting the picture. Last week, about 500 principals, assistant principals and school psychologists from the Philadelphia School District, which educates nearly 150,000 students, met at a three-day summit to begin the process to replace a punitive approach to school discipline with a preventive, supportive approach, according to a story by reporter Susan Snyder.

“We can’t arrest our way to higher student achievement,” said incoming Superintendent William R. Hite Jr., who doesn’t officially start until Oct. 1 but came to town to take part in the summit. “We can’t suspend our way to higher student achievement. We can’t arrest or suspend our way to safer schools.

The local Stoneleigh Foundation is supporting a person in a two-year fellowship to develop a school

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Wouldn’t you think these Iowa cuts just lead to more spending?; tribes want to prosecute non-Indian DV, child sex abuse; ICE ignorant of child trauma research?

Iowa county map provides links to help for people who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.


The Clinton (IA) YWCA, which helps 600 people a year who’ve been physically and/or verbally assaulted by a partner, or sexually assaulted by anyone, has been told to expect a budget cut of $256,000, according to reporter Lynnanne Nguyen.  It’s part of $1.1 million in planned cuts to decrease the state’s 28 domestic violence and sexual assault programs to 18 by next summer. Uh….where’s the economist who can show legislators and the governor that cutting money in these programs means more spending down the line on child welfare, social services, emergency response, police, courts and prisons? The people who run the shelters aren’t going down without a fight. They’re scheduling a series of town hall meetings.

THE WRANGLING OVER THE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT continues, as Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington State has been pushing for legislators to allow tribes to prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence, according to this thorough look at the issue by Rob Hotakainen on (Tacoma, WA). There’s good reason for the move — “Indian women are murdered at more than 10 times the national average, and more than 1 in 3 will be raped in their lifetimes, according to the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women. That rape rate is twice as high as it is for other ethnicities, according to experts on sexual violence.”

Murray is urging native America women to tell their stories. Here’s one that Hotakainen related:
Deborah Parker, the vice chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes, has become the senator’s most prominent ally, recounting her sexual and physical abuse while growing up on the

A great resource for information about home visiting programs for families

There’s no doubt that early childhood — birth to three years old — is THE MOST IMPORTANT time to lay down that  healthy foundation for a child’s rapidly developing brain. Those busy little brains need healthy and trusted attachments to a caregiver, appropriate but not toxic stress, lots of happy interactions with mom, dad, siblings, friends, puppies, kittens, grasshoppers, bubbles…the world. Get a great start at this age, and a kid has a better chance at a happy, healthy life and/or is better able to withstand some heavy hits later in life. Nurse-Family Partnership says that providing home visits for at-risk families results in a 48% reduction in child abuse and neglect, a 67% decrease in behavioral and intellectual problems, and 59% fewer arrests by age 15, among many other benefits.

Since early childhood has such a HUGE impact on health, social services, prisons, etc.; AND because there’s federal money for states to start such campaigns; AND because a couple of dozen different home visiting programs exist, it’s lucky for all of us that Pew Center on the States launched the Home Visiting Campaign a couple of years ago.

Are you merely interested in how home visiting works? This site’s for you. Are you an employee in a state that’s thinking about starting a home visiting program? This site’s also for you. Want to find out which program’s most effective and/or best for your situation? This site’s for you, too.

The highlights:

More reasons why preventing child trauma is a good idea — fewer people in prison means fewer lives lost, and money saved

This fabulous infographic comes from the Pew Center on the States. Studies show that most people in prison have experienced childhood maltreatment (National Institute of Justice, University of Alaska Justice ForumIllinois Criminal Justice Information Authority).  Nearly all women in prison have experienced childhood trauma. The CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experience Study (ACE Study) shows that having a family member in jail can traumatize a child.

This is one more reason why it’s critical to prevent

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A military PTSD story with a happy ending; Penn State football players to wear blue ribbons for child abuse victims; Maui woman leads DV group that helped her; trauma webinar for public

IN THIS CASE, the all-too familiar story of a military veteran suffering the effects of PTSD and unwittingly abusing his family has a happy ending. In “The War That Came Home” Andrea Carlisle describes her experiences in grappling with the PTSD that her husband, Wes, experienced after his deployment to Iraq. In an article by Abbey Doyle posted to the in Anderson, IN, Carlisle describes events leading to their separation:

It started with nightmares and flashbacks but soon escalated. He was controlling and emotionally abusive.

“His rage created a house of fear and sadness,” Andrea wrote in the book. She said he did things like shredding a painting, putting holes in the wall and denting appliances.

And on Christmas Eve 2010 there was an incident involving a gun that she described in great detail in the book. The two had gotten into

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The effects of adverse childhood experiences touch every part of us

Dr. David McCollum was for years an emergency room physician and  is one of the co-founders of the Academy on Violence & Abuse, an organization aimed at health professionals. It provides education and research on the effects of violence and abuse on people’s health.

Early on in his work, McCollum became aware of the connection between childhood trauma and health problems. He integrated his awareness into his emergency room practice by asking questions when he thought patients’ health problems might be related to events that had happened in their past. I’ll post some of those stories later. The outcomes were very surprising, including a woman who came to the ER with chronic pelvic pain. After she answered “All three” when McCollum asked her if she’d been verbally, physically or sexually abused, and a discussion ensued at how it could affect her current health, her pain dissipated.

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