Tag Mental Health

Seven Myths about ADHD

child trying to get through glassThere are three kinds of ADHD: a child has significant concentration problems but is not significantly hyperactive (ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type), vice versa (ADHD, Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive Type) and both (ADHD, Combined Type). About 75% of kids with ADHD have ADHD, Combined Type while the large majority of the rest have the inattentive type.  Below are seven common myths about ADHD. Following those I list core guidelines for evaluation and treatment.

Myth: ADHD is not a real disorder. This is akin to saying that diabetes isn’t a real disorder or asthma isn’t a real disorder. To my knowledge, no reputable scientist or professional organization subscribes to this position. About four to six percent of youth suffer from this biological disorder. Studies of the brain indicate that these youth show poor functioning in the parts of the brain responsible for impulse control and sustained attention to boring tasks.

Myth: ADHD, Combined Type can be caused by poor parenting or being upset male college studentraised in adverse circumstances. While significant attentional problems can be caused by an assortment of problems (e.g., trauma, depression, anxiety), the degree of sustained hyperactivity required to diagnose ADHD is usually not caused by environmental stresses (I say “generally” as even a broken clock is right twice a day, but I’ve never seen a case like this or read about a case like this). ADHD is a biological disorder caused by either genetic transmission (i.e., it runs in the family) or significant insult to the brain (e.g., mom smoking cigarettes during pregnancy).

Myth: ADHD is caused by what a child ingests. Certainly what a child eats could affect just about any condition. Moreover, correcting an unbalanced diet, or eliminating allergens or toxins, would be part of a helpful treatment plan for just about any disorder. However, nothing that youth put in their mouths has been established as a primary cause of ADHD.

girl paint all over herMyth: A positive response to medication treatment proves that a child has ADHD. Many children will experience improved concentration on low doses of stimulant medication, whether they have ADHD or not. Our culture is replete with examples of people, who do not have ADHD, using stimulants to accomplish some desired effect (e.g., pilots during the Korean war took dexedrine in order to be able to focus better during long bombing runs).

Myth: Youth suffering from ADHD, who are treated with stimulant medication, are at higher risk to develop substance abuse problems as a function of taking the medication. Actually, the exact opposite seems to be more likely: having ADHD, and not receiving effective treatment for it, seems to double to triple the odds of substance abuse in adolescence. Moreover, the number one cause of death and serious injury among teens and young adults are accidents and youth with untreated ADHD are at a much higher risk to experience those.

Myth: ADHD can be treated effectively by enhancing a child’s motivation. defiant boyAs I wear corrective lenses I use the following analogy with my clients: “if I told people I wasn’t willing to wear glasses but was interested in other treatments, they might try to make the light brighter for me, cheer me on, or suggest that I get closer to things I’m reading. However, nothing is going to help nearly as quickly and effectively as my just putting on my glasses. And, my not putting on my glasses could eventually make me think that my problem with reading is a problem with my effort. And, if I go there in my thinking, I’m probably going to make myself very, very upset and sick.”

Myth: People outgrow their ADHD. It is true that a small percentage of youth with ADHD reach the point that their symptoms are not significantly impairing in adulthood (these are usually the milder cases with multiple protective factors at play). So, in that case this myth has some truth to it.  However, testing on those individuals will usually document the lingering presence of the disorder; it’s just not causing impairment anymore, secondary to the protective factors and brain maturation.


Evaluation guidelines

Keep in mind that in order to qualify for an ADHD diagnosis a child must show unusual and impairing inattention (usually to tasks that bore him or her) or hyperactivity/impulsivity at both school and home for a period of at least six months. The common standard for “unusual” is the 93rd percentile (i.e, having the symptom worse than 92% of the youth’s peer group). Moreover, the onset of the first impairing symptom should be before the age of seven and no other viable theory can explain the symptoms that are being demonstrated (i.e., ADHD is a diagnosis by exclusion).

The methodology for determining the presence of the disorder is determined by a cost/benefit analysis. As I consider the myriad of factors at play, I’d suggest the following be the default standard for ADHD evaluations: a family interview, a child/teen interview, the completion of parent, teacher and child–if the child’s reading level is sufficient–behavior rating scales, a comprehensive review of school records and a review of any other relevant records. (The behavior rating scales should include broad-band measures that endeavor to assess for a spectrum of disorders as well as narrow-band measures that try to rule out ADHD specifically.) If one of these elements is missing, I’d worry about the increased odds of an inaccurate finding. If these sources of information leave the diagnosis in doubt, I’d suggest adding a computer based continuous performance test (e.g., the Test of the Variables of Attention). (There is a reasonable argument to be made for including a continuous performance test  in every evaluation for ADHD, so I wouldn’t differ with those clinicians who do.) In instances where a learning disability is suspected, additional cognitive and achievement testing would usually be in order.

anxious teen african-american

Treatment guidelines

The large majority of children with ADHD have at least one other co-occurring condition (e.g., Oppositional Defiant Disorder). The configuration of the co-occurring problems would normally have a substantive impact on an evidence-based treatment plan. However, for ADHD itself, medication is the primary treatment of choice (i.e., the scientific evidence supporting its efficacy is overwhelming). It is also very common to need behavioral treatments, at both school and at home, to augment the primary treatment. As a primary treatment, the following would typically not be indicated: dietary manipulations, chiropractic treatments, play therapy, art therapy, music therapy or basically any interventions that does not have a sound scientific foundation to support its usage as a first line intervention.

For more science-based information on ADHD, consider any of the following websites designed for lay people:

www.chadd.org, www.add.org or www.help4adhd.org

Also, on 12/4/12, from 1 to 2 PM EST, there will be a Twitter chat on ADHD. (I will be one of the panelists.) This will be hosted by Dr. Richard Besser, Chief Medical Editor for ABC news. Just go to #abcDrBchat at that time.

What Do I Say To My Teen When Another Teen Has Committed Suicide?

Few tragedies make us wonder more about the order of our lives than when a teenager or young adult commits suicide. Sadly, this is too common as suicide is the third leading cause of death among those aged 15-24. Moreover, a recent national survey by the Center for Disease Control indicated that 16% of U.S. high school students report that they think seriously about suicide and half of those state that they have made an attempt.

As we consider this topic we also all do well to keep in mind that there is a risk of contagion whenever a teen commits suicide (e.g., a risk of another teen committing suicide). I’ve never known an adult who intended to glorify suicide. But that can be exactly what happens when a teen suicide is sensationalized or overly memorialized.

With those comments in mind, here are a few tips for approaching your teen about this topic:

• Don’t force a conversation about the suicide, but make it clear you’re interested in discussing your teen’s thoughts and feelings about it if he or she is open to that.

• Let your teen take the lead in the discussion. Try to avoid sharing your perspective until your teen’s thoughts and feelings appear to have been fully vetted. (In my experience this is hard for many of we parents to do).

• Offer empathy in response to whatever your teen says. Empathy to a teen is like a warming sun to a spring tulip: it facilitates more opening up.

Some things to consider offering once it is your turn:

• Let your teen know (or affirm the point if your teen has already made it) that suicide constitutes the worst possible choice a person can make. There is nothing about suicide that is worthy of glory, reinforcement, romanticizing or undue attention. It is a tragic and terrible behavior engaged in by people who are experiencing overwhelming pain and/or confusion.

• Ask your teen if he or she has ever thought about hurting himself or herself. (It’s a myth that asking this question, by itself, will promote or worsen suicidal thinking or behavior.) If he or she states that he or she is thinking about committing suicide arrange for an immediate evaluation by a qualified mental health professional (you can call the emergency services unit of your local community mental health center or take your teen to your local emergency room).

• Consider asking your teen what he or she thinks it would be like for you if he or she ever committed suicide. Then, either agree with what he or she has said or share more. This would also be a good time to reaffirm your deep love for your teen and the specific things that your teen says or does that you value.

• If your child knew the teen who committed suicide let him or her know that a grieving response is normal and expected. The balance is to give those thoughts and feelings the time and space they need while also trying to live life as normally as possible.

• If your child knew the teen who committed suicide stress that there is no way to know the causes of that particular teen’s suicide. Very little insight can usually be gleaned from the circumstances of the teen’s life (e.g., the degree of academic success, how much cohesion appears to be in the family, etc.). As a psychotherapist my clients usually let me in to very private and hidden areas of their lives; however, even I do not often know every important factor that causes them to behave in a particular way.

• Let your teen know that you will arrange for him or her to speak privately with a qualified mental health professional about these issues if he or she would like that.

There are many preventative strategies Here I will share three (I am more thorough about this in my parenting book):

√ Spend at least one hour a week doing special time with your teen. A regular line of communication makes it more likely you’ll be in the loop if your teen’s mood darkens. Click here for a download on how to do this weekly exercise.

√ Do all that you can to make sure that your teen has identified his or her competencies and is manifesting them in the world.

√ Try to ensure that your teen is sleeping at least 8.5-9.5 hours a night, is eating a balanced diet that limits processed carbohydrates and sweats and breathes hard an hour 5-7 days a week.

In closing, if your teen is showing signs of mental health disturbance, please err on the side of caution and arrange for a qualified mental health professional to do an evaluation, even if your teen is opposed to the idea. For a referral, click here.

Ignoring Kids’ Mental Health Needs is Expensive

With most of the Affordable Care act being upheld this week by the Supreme Court, it seems like an apt time to review an example of how costs rise when kids’ mental health needs are not sufficiently addressed.

A few months ago The American Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry published a national study regarding the cost of pediatric (age ≤ 18) usage of emergency room visits in the U.S. from 2001 to 2008. (As many know, ER and hospital care is usually much more expensive than outpatient care. Moreover, mental health problems are more likely to be treated in this more expensive setting when a youth’s outpatient needs for care have not been adequately attended to.) The abstract can be found here. Some high points:

• Of the 73,105 visits, 1,476 were for mental health issues. When appropriate statistical adjustments were made, it was estimated that there are 480,700 emergency department visits for mental health issues in the US each year.

• 21.8% of the mental health contacts arrived by ambulance compared to 6.3% of other kinds of contacts; they also stayed longer  (median 169 minutes vs. 108 minutes) and had a higher rate of admission into the hospital (16.4% vs. 7.6%).

• The rate of usage was not significantly different across gender and between Caucasian and African-American kids; however, the usage rates for Hispanics was lower than non-Hispanics.

• Quoting the authors: “Depressive disorders were the most common principal diagnoses, followed by anxiety and disruptive behavioral disorders or ADHD.”

• Following appropriate statistical adjustments, the researchers determined that 1/3rd of the mental health related visits to hospitals result in a hospitalization.

• Additional collateral costs (e.g., the need to have security personnel monitor the youth, the fact that many arrived with escorts that had a professional role in the child’s life) were also noted.

• Quoting the authors: “Probability of extended stays for mental health visits rose over the period that we studied. By 2008, the odds of an extended stay (> 4 hours) was almost twice that in 2001, and we did not observe comparable growth in the duration of non-mental health visits.”

The authors also acknowledge that their rates may represent underestimates of usage as they used stricter criteria for defining a mental health visit than have other investigators that have examined this area.

For me this study place another brick in the wall that demonstrates the tremendous costs–financial only being one of them–that accrue when we neglect the mental health needs of our children and teenagers. If you’d like to read more about this, please see Chapter 10 of my book Working Parents, Thriving Families, or any of the blog entries below:

Signs That a Kid Needs Mental Health Services

Seven Common Myths About Counseling

Affording Mental Health Care

Mental Health Concerns Are Nearly Universal By Age 21

Earlier this year a landmark study on the prevalence of psychological disorders in youth was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Examining youth living in 11 counties in the southeastern US, it is the first to track kids’ mental health status from ages as young as 9 through age 21 (a total sample size of 1,420). The authors–Drs. William Copeland, Lilly Shanahan and E. Jane Costello and Ms. Adrian Angold–note some key findings in their report:

• Assuming that there was no incident of psychiatric disorders among the missing cases (an unlikely event), 70% of the sample met criteria for a mental health disorder, at some point, by age 21. (This is referred to as the unimputed number.)

• If one were to assume that the rates of psychiatric disturbance are the same among the missing cases, the frequency of a mental health disorder by age 21 rose to 82.5%. (This is referred to as the imputed number.)

• Child participants entered the study at one of three different ages: 9, 11 and 13. Among the youngest cohort (i.e., entered the study at age 9), the rates of having a diagnosable mental health problem by age 21 was “higher than 90%.” The authors note “This suggests that the experience of psychiatric illness is not merely common but nearly universal.”

• When examining the imputed analyses, these were the most common disorders: substance abuse–42%, behavioral disorders (e.g., ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder)–23.5%, anxiety disorders–20.9% and mood disorders–14.8%.

While all research studies have their flaws, and this one is no exception (e.g., an under representation of African-American and Hispanic children), this study numbers among those contributing to the notion that mental health disorders and physical disorders, as they manifest in youth, have many similar characteristics:

• The odds of having at least one by adulthood are nearly universal.

• Most are not chronic or severe.

• Most can be cured or effectively managed through evidence-based interventions.

• Most will either worsen, or promote needless suffering, when they go unrecognized or untreated.

However, there is a key way that mental health and physical disorders in youth are substantively different. As the authors indicate: “Only about one in three individuals with a well-specified psychiatric disorder received any treatment at all, and even when treatment was obtained, it rarely conformed to best practice recommendations.” I find myself wondering when we will grow weary and intolerant of this needless suffering that our babies endure.

If you, as parent or caregiver, would like to find an ally in your neighborhood to help you to understand whether a child or teen under your charge could use help along these lines, click here. To read a consumer guide for child mental health services, see Chapter 10 in my book Working Parents, Thriving Families: 10 Strategies That Make a Difference.

You may also find value in reviewing posts I’ve written on related topics:

Affording Mental Health Care

Signs that a Kid Needs Mental Health Services

Seven Common Myths About Counseling

Millions of Teens are Suffering Needlessly

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