You, Me + Toxic Beauty

Opening disclaimer: Trusted blog readers, fear not; I have not forsaken you. I’ve begun a new job and still freelance on the side. So, needless to say: life is busy. Thank you for understanding.

ToxicBanner_0

Toxic banner from ED web site

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of attending Environmental Defence Canada’s “eco-beauty” event in downtown Toronto.

Now, what does eco-beauty and toxic cosmetics have to do with kids’ mental health? Stay with me…

Environmental Defence puts on an eco-beauty event about once every six months. Open to the public, certified members share their wares for education and profit. And, boy were the products enticing. Vendors offered organic, non-toxic cosmetic and beauty items such as:

  • Bath and hair oil and baby oil
  • Body lotion
  • Lipsticks, lip balms, face lotions
  • Natural deodorants, hemorrhoid creams and sore throat remedies

Bloggers were also treated to a short presentation about the “toxic ten”: These are “cancer-causing, hormone-disrupting, and allergy-inducing substances that have been banned or restricted in European products that can still be found in Canadian products.”

The toxic ten ingredients include: triclosan, artificial musk, parabens, phthalates, petrolatum, BHA and BHT. Find out more by visiting the ED’s page on toxins in personal care products.

Now the link between mental health and toxins? Beyond obvious concerns and links between ingesting toxins and the physical and mental health of adults, babies and children, researchers have found that triclosan is an endocrine disruptor: “substances that interfere with the body’s hormones…suppress[ing] the activity of mast cells, which are important to the functioning of the immune system.”

Evaluating all of this data leads me to re-read ingredients included not only in food and drink but also in my and my children’s shampoos, conditioners, body wash, body lotion, medicines, etc.

What about you?

Mental Health Week 2013: Meds and Kids

Canadian Mental Health Week 2013

A Kids ‘n’ Mental Health Wordle for a Rainy Day in May

Greetings, Blog Readers. I apologize for the large gap in posts. I’ve been working a lot and getting up to speed on new content, technology, travel, etc.

Mental Health Week is almost over and I feel compelled to post something on this topic as it’s so relevant to my blog.

Recently, the topic of mental health & medication has come up. I’ve read quite a few blog posts and articles by those opposed to having children take medication for “minor” mental health-related diseases and syndromes such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and Asperger Syndrome.

Beyond life-saving results for some, prescription medication can have devastating side-effects. From lethargy to increased anxiety, dry mouth, trouble sleeping and decreased appetite (I sound like an announcer on one of those pharma co. TV commercials!), the vast majority of physicians and parents of children with mental health disorders consider medication very, very carefully before introducing it to their child.

Many questions abound:

  • Do the pros out way the cons?
  • Will medication make the child’s life easier and better?
  • Does the child (if she’s old enough to understand) want to take the medication to increase quality of life?
  • Is this a “forever thing” or can he eventually be weaned off?
  • Will “talk therapy” combined with medication improve the situation even more than taking meds alone?

What are your thoughts on children and mental health medication? Do you have any experience with improvement or devastating effects? Did therapy help more than meds for your child? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

When Vicious Behaviour Goes Viral

Towards the Light

Towards the Light

By now, most of the world has heard about Rehteah Parsons’ life and death.

Beautiful, young and said to show great compassion for both humans and animals, Rehteah was sexually assaulted at a party, photographed and then victimized all over again when the photo was posted and shared by who knows how many students.

Ironically, the cause of so much of Rehteah’s pain and torture (social media) is now one of the vehicles being used to express outrage and promote justice.

Just this morning I signed a petition on Change.org demanding an independent inquiry into the police investigation which declared that no crime had taken place regarding both the rape and distribution of graphic and revealing photos. There are also Facebook pages set up, tweets posted and emails being sent to Justice Minister Ross Landry.

Why does it take death and despair to invoke a change in our laws? How can we use social media in a way that’s innovative and useful without promoting hatred, bullying, stress and destruction? Obviously, the way we engage in and rely on social media must change. Now.

A Trip Down Bipolar Road…

Barry Shainbaum

Barry Shainbaum

I was recently introduced to Barry Shainbaum through a colleague. Creative leader, entrepreneur, broadcaster, mentor, counselor and “bipolar survivor”, Barry shares his history of mental illness and advice with us.

Q:  What advice do you have for children currently living with mental illness?    

A: You are possibly at the very beginning of a long journey — “a journey into yourself.”  The road to living with and possibly even overcoming mental illness can be multifaceted and one encompassing medication, psychotherapy and spiritual exploration.

Q: How has your struggle shaped who you are today?

A: My struggle of overcoming bipolar disorder was a tortuous winding road encompassing twenty years.   From an illness that came close to taking my life, today life is rich and full, both personally and professionally, with many creative ventures.  I have evolved to become a person who finds joy in each and every day, and in the smallest things in life.  I have also become aware of the power of persistence, hope, meditation, visualization, nature, love and synchronicity.

Q: Do you think mental illness (in adults and children) invokes creativity? Do you think people who haven’t “suffered” or felt pain can be truly creative?

A: The creative urge is often greater in those facing mental health problems, as there is a need to express the pain, confusion, and to search for meaning and joy amidst darkness.  Why has it been said countless times that there is a fine line between genius and insanity?   Perhaps, those with the most pain have to work so much harder on their lives, and often that means transcending boundaries.  I have also read that [people feel] joy to the same extent that they have suffered. I agree with that statement.

Q: Do you think society will ever be free of stigma or will people living with mental health always be stigmatized?

A: Stigma against those with mental illness is slowly being eroded.   The more that mental illness and mental health issues are discussed and the more that well-known figures come forward and talk about their challenges, the more stigma will be reduced. I see a future where, those diagnosed with mental illness are told, “In time your diagnosis will unlock the door to a life grander than it had been, had you never [been] ill.”

Q: What tools, tips, or resources helped you most as a youth struggling with bipolar disorder?

A: When I “fell ill” in 1970, there were not the resources that there are today.   As a volunteer, I currently run a men’s group at the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario and at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. I recommend that a person receiving a diagnosis of mental illness  begin [their journey] in the library. Read about the numerous aspects of mental illness: psychiatric, psychological, genetic, relationship, environmental and spiritual.   It can be overwhelming so read a little bit at a time. And remember: Life is full of problems. And by facing our problems, we evolve and grow.


Barry Shainbaum overcame bipolar disorder 24 years ago.   He works in 5 disciplines:  professional speaker, photographer, radio broadcaster, singer/musician in senior homes and as a mental health consultant.  He is also a juggler!  Barry is the author of two books:  Hope and Heroes, and Dancing in the Rain.  His website is: barryshainbaum.com

Damned if We Do, Damned if We Don’t…

Parent Trap

Parent Trap

As a freelance writer, I regularly receive articles, books, gadgets and expert opinions pertaining to parenting and health.

Usually I’m happy to discover new philosophies and content but, sometimes, it can be too much.

For instance, this Huffington Post article Anxiety in Children: Are We to Blame was shared by friends on Facebook yesterday.

The article is certainly valid, focused on the increase in “helicopter parenting” and our apparent inability to lay off kids and give them the independence they require. “…Seligman also identifies learning independence as a major source of growth. Kids need the opportunity to learn for themselves, the chance to make their own decisions and to see how the consequences work out.”

It’s a tough call. After hearing about an eight-year-old girl who was almost snatched on her way to school this week, parents have every right to be concerned about children’s safety.

Is it possible to encourage independence and learning while still maintaining a safe vigil? Where is that illusive line between hovering and respect, loving and awareness?

What’s your take?

Mood River: Highs and Lows of Mood Disorders in Children

The murky waters of mood disorder

The murky waters of mood disorder

Recently I asked “Ashley” to share advice on my blog. Ashley is a colleague and parent to an 11-year-old girl diagnosed with Mood Disorder.

 I have learned a lot about mood disorders and was blown away by her candor.

1) Can you describe “mood disorder” and its symptoms?

Last spring, my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD and we put her on a stimulant. She began having rages, getting verbally aggressive (threatening to kill people) and physically aggressive (biting, hitting, kicking) family members to the point that she left bruises and other marks. We took her off the medication and the rages decreased for a while, but returned along with ADHD symptoms that interfered with school.

We tried another stimulant and the rages increased. Her pediatrician suggested that because she was raging on stimulants that he highly suspected that she had a mood disorder.  At his suggestion, I read the book The Bipolar Child and cried because the symptoms described in the book were almost a verbatim description of my daughter. 

2) Why were you surprised by this revelation?

I was surprised that the way that bipolar presents in children is very different from the way it looks in adults. Some of the symptoms that resonated with me:

  • severe irritability
  • night terrors
  • raging
  • oppositional behaviour
  • rapid cycling (going from giddy to irritated very quickly and back again)
  • sensory issues
  • carb cravings (my daughter would binge on sweets and bread)
  • hyper-sexuality

Another trait exhibited by my daughter was that she didn’t show her rages and violence to anyone outside the family and I was her main target.

3) Please provide some insight into the relationship between ADHD and mood disorders and how they’re sometimes confused.

According to the book The Bipolar Child, one-third of the children diagnosed with ADHD actually have early onset bipolar. Many symptoms of bipolar overlap with ADHD, such as being impulsive, emotionally volatile, hyperactive and distracted. When I was reading Bipolar Child for the first time, the description in temper tantrums between children with ADHD and children with mood disorders was what finally convinced me that my daughter was bipolar.

Bipolar temper tantrums can often last for hours, can involve destruction or violence and are typically triggered by not getting what they want. The book described that ADHD tantrums typically last 20-30 minutes and are caused by sensory or emotional stimulation. I thought about the previous evening and how my daughter had spent over two hours hitting us, screaming and chasing after us and realized that my daughter was bipolar.

4) What advice can you offer parents?

My biggest advice is to find support. I found the forums and support groups at The Balanced Mind to provide me great information on both the medical side and the coping side.

At first I was really scared to tell anyone about my daughter’s diagnosis and even more about her repeatedly hurting me. I would wear long sleeves to cover the bite marks and bruises and worry that someone would see. But then I shared with trusted friends what we were going through and was very surprised that instead of judgment, I received love and support.

My other advice is to find the right team of doctors and therapists. It took several tries to find the right fit for our family and my daughter’s situation, but we finally found a neuropsychiatric that has been lifesaving for us. We also began working with a behavioural therapist to help our whole family learn strategies to deal with the bipolar symptoms.

5) How do you and your family (and your child) best cope with this mental illness?

When she is raging, we try to remind ourselves that this is the bipolar talking, not our daughter. We also make sure that every member of our family gets time to enjoy the things that make them happy and get a break from my daughter. We also all meet with a therapist to talk about our feelings of living with the disease in our family.

6) Anything else you’d like to add?

If you suspect that your child has a mood disorder, get him or her evaluated as soon as possible. Life has gotten dramatically better once we found the right medication and have begun learning to understand the disease.

 –

 

Health and Wellness Scholarship

Go nuts! Image courtesy of NutsforLife.com

Go nuts! Image courtesy of NutsforLife.com

It’s a well known fact that nutrition (or lack thereof) is linked to mental health.

If a child is eating sugar-laden chemical-filled donuts and additive-filled juices dyed a creepy blue colour, behaviour and mood can be affected.

I thought I knew a lot about additives and dyes until I researched an article for KIWI magazine on Food Choices for Kids with ADHD. Some parents remove all dyes (blue and red are said to be the worst) from their children’s diet – often with dramatic results. I do my best to avoid artificial dyes which are added to cake icing, juice, sports’ drinks, candy, vitamins and cough syrup. It’s a slippery slope.

In related news: In January I was notified that I won a scholarship to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s Health Coach Training Program. I’m pleased to be chosen and am seriously considering taking this course. Learning more about the foods, vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to develop and thrive is fascinating. I’d love to help myself, my family and others flourish as a result.