My focus in 2024 as a professional in this field is to move forward in preventing mental health issues and promoting wellness. I have an innovative two-pronged approach to promoting mental wellness thru a school-based plan (OILS – Operation I Like School) that focuses on how children feel about school (wanting to go to school) and by promoting mental wellness in health care by encouraging every child/young person under 25 to have an established mental health provider with two check-ins per year.
We need to flip our mission to promoting mental wellness. Our current model of addressing the mental health crisis is equivalent to trying to stop a boulder from rolling down a large hill once it is halfway down. We really need to be stopping the boulder long before it reaches the crest of the hill. This is where prevention comes in and is critical to moving forward.
In schools, which is where the kids are for 35 plus of their waking hours, we can promote contentment and mental wellness. Children and teens largely do not endorse that they like school or even want to attend. We can change that with the mission to increase flexibility, freedom, and choice at school. We can make children feel heard by gathering the data at schools for: How much do children/teens like school? How much do they want to go to school? What could schools be doing differently that would make them happier about attending?
In healthcare we need to flip the model to a Mental Wellness Model like a Dental Wellness model that includes two visits per year (ages 0-25). This would go far to prevent problems and help establish care so if something in mental health did come up there would not be a waiting list of a year to address an issue. Although I anticipate pushback on this plan because there is already a crisis and a shortage of mental health providers, I propose that it would be better to focus our resources on preventing forest fires rather than focus all our resources on fighting a raging fire out west that has no hope of going out until the weather shifts.
If prevention and wellness were the focus, eventually the need for crisis intervention and the number of mental health providers would decrease. And boy would I change in a heartbeat to working as a baker or something if all the children, teens, and young people were happy, learning, and did not need my help. :)
Who are we kidding? Teenage depression, anxiety, and attention problems were off the charts before COVID.
National Institutes of Health studies indicated that nearly 1 in 3 of all adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder. 33% with a diagnosable anxiety disorder. Let that sink in. Depression is high too, so is ADHD. This skyrocketing trend was happening before the pandemic.
The world has been a quickly evolving place especially for young people especially over the past 15 years. The technology boom has put revolutionary programs, gaming, and communication at our fingers 24:7 and the social media is OUT OF CONTROL.
The quote from Jurassic Park reminds me they “were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Providing teenagers and children constant access to online content and screens have been detrimental to mental health and learning.
Schools in general have also struggled to adapt to the teenagers where they are now. There is a mismatch in the gigantic and slow moving education system between the “all-in use of technology” and the old school tactics and policies that desperately need updating—to meet the needs of 2021 students.
Now I realize that there are amazing schools with incredible teachers out there. I see them, know them, am related to them, and think the world of them. This is not what I am talking about. There are systemic reasons that teens are struggling with learning and thriving exist and we need to address this now.
The next entries will focus on changes that need to be made in the school systems today and practical ways to actually do this.
No Nonsense Psychology in 2021 from Dr. Heather
Give the teenagers their stuff back NOW!
Adolescents are meant for selfishness. Because of where they are in development, their world should be all about me, me, me. They feel that a light is shining on them and them alone. Everyone is looking at me. No one understands me.
This is not to be confused with impolite teenagers. Most of the teens I know are lovely people who have been taught courtesy, politeness, and values. This is NOT what I am talking about. This almost makes it worse. Teens know how fortunate they are but are still feeling like crap. Why is that?
Well teens are supposed to be spending their time focused on school, friends, fun, dances, activities, sports, art, clubs, work, and all all-around bright futures. It’s magic time for teenagers and that is how it is supposed to be in this fleeting time of youth and vitality. Unfortunately, in one year’s time these things have been erased and instead have been replaced by a virtual world full of screens that are exacerbating problems with focus, depression, and anxiety.
So I am here to say it’s time to give the teenagers all of their stuff back. Right now.
Mental health depends on it.
(Disclaimer: We live in a free country. Obviously for those with health issues or other factors, it would still be up to individuals and families to opt into these activities or out of these activities based on their individual views and situations).
By Dr. Heather Hurd
After working for years with adults with Autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD), I am convinced that it can be very helpful to share the ASD diagnosis with employers. I have heard concerns about discrimination and being judged for having ASD, but in my experience the benefits of sharing the disorder have far outweighed the disadvantages.
Sharing the disorder can foster a more positive and effective work environment. One example of this is an individual was having a hard time working with some coworkers for years. It is likely that there was miscommunication occurring with nonsocial cues. After I wrote a letter to be shared with this individual’s supervisor and coworkers communication at work improved. There was an increased understanding, acceptance, and support that was not there previously. In fact, the coworker that had started off with the most rocky relationship actually brought in something special to celebrate Autism Awareness Day.
By Dr. Heather Hurd
I have been asked many of times, how should I tell my child he/she has a disability? Should I tell them or keep it from them? Around age 8 many children begin to realize that they are different from others. Point blank, without any explanation of why things are hard for them, and are not hard for others they can be at risk for low self-esteem and even some symptoms of depression.
For many children, if they have been to see mental health professionals or have an Individual Education Plan it is highly likely that they already know something is up. And if children have already overheard the word “disability” or another label it is better that they be able to ask questions and receive the
information you want to share with them.
By Dr. Heather Hurd
Kids with Autism and Social Skills Deficits are especially at risk for being bullied. Bam. They have trouble enough with things already, but being bullied on top of it all? Darn it, but yes.
A common misperception about children, teens, and adults with Autism is that they do not pick up on social cues, so they do not understand or feel bullying. It is just the opposite, actually. An adult with Autism reported to me a few years back that he had been at a party in which the other men were laughing at his expense. He did not realize it at the time. But when it dawned on him later it was devastating. Even as adults words can sting us.
By Dr. Heather Hurd
Bullying is no joke these days. Bullying used to be a big kid taking a little kid’s lunch money, or knocking them down. That bullying still happens. But today there is another kind of bullying, bullying with words. Examples include telling everyone in the class not to be friends with a child or teen, or texting the class that they should post mean things about a child or teen on facebook. Enough of these actions piled on and it can lead to significant depression symptoms or even worse.
This “new” kind of bullying is also called relational aggression. You may think of the movie “Mean Girls” and while it sort of hits the mark, unfortunately it can be mild compared with what some children/teens live through. If children/teens are unique in some way this can unfortunately make them easy targets for bullies. Children and teens that dress, act differently, have unique viewpoints, and have problems in learning or social areas are especially at risk for being