U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy issued a public advisory that made plain what a growing number of pediatricians, parents and scientists already know: Social media is a threat to our children’s mental and physical health.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 14, who are online more than ever before. A center in New Mexico is working to change that.
Relieving stress and anxiety might help you feel better — for a bit. Martin E.P. Seligman, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and a pioneer in the field of positive psychology, does not see alleviating negative emotions as a path to happiness.
FOR years, there has been a steady stream of headlines about the soaring mental health needs of college students and their struggles with anxiety and lack of resilience. Now, a growing number of educators are trying to bolster emotional competency not on college campuses, but where they believe it will have the greatest impact: in elementary schools.
Kathryn DeWitt conquered high school like a gold-medal decathlete. She ran track, represented her school at a statewide girls’ leadership program and took eight Advanced Placement tests, including one for which she independently prepared, forgoing the class. Expectations were high. Every day at 5 p.m. test scores and updated grades were posted online. Her mother would be the first to comment should her grade go down. “I would get home from track and she would say, ‘I see your grade dropped.’ I would say, ‘Mom, I think it’s a mistake.’ And she would say, ‘That’s what I thought.’ ” (The reason turned out to be typing errors. Ms. DeWitt graduated with straight A’s.)
For nearly a decade, while serving as an elected official and working as an attorney, Massachusetts state Sen. Bob Antonioni struggled with depression, although he didn’t know it. Most days, he attended Senate meetings and appeared on behalf of clients at the courthouse. But privately, he was irritable and short-tempered, ruminating endlessly over his cases and becoming easily frustrated by small things, like deciding which TV show to watch with his girlfriend. After a morning at the state house, he’d be so exhausted by noon that he’d drive home and collapse on the couch, unable to move for the rest of the day.When his younger brother, who was similarly moody, killed himself in 1999, Antonioni, then 40, decided to seek help. For three years, he clandestinely saw a therapist, paying in cash so there would be no record.
Chicken and potatoes. Chicken and potatoes. Danny Boronat wants chicken and potatoes. He asks for it once, twice … 10 times. In the kitchen of the family’s suburban New Jersey home, Danny’s mother, Loretta, chops garlic for spaghetti sauce. No chicken and potatoes, she tells Danny. We’re having spaghetti. But Danny wants chicken and potatoes. Chicken and potatoes. His 12-year-old sister, Rosalinda, wanders in to remind her mother about upcoming basketball tryouts. His brother Alex, 22, grabs some tortilla chips and then leaves to check scores on ESPN. His other brother Matthew, 17, talks about an upcoming gig with his band. Danny seems not to notice any of this. “Mom,” he asks in a monotone, “why can’t we have chicken and potatoes?” If Danny were a toddler, his behavior would be nothing unusual. But Danny Boronat is 20 years old. “That’s really what life with autism is like,” says Loretta. “I have to keep laughing. Otherwise, I would cry.”
Eloise Goldman struggled to hold the line. She knew it was ridiculous to spend $250 on a mini iPod for her 9-year-old son Ben. The price tag wasn’t the biggest issue for Goldman, a publicist, and her fund-raiser husband, Jon. It was the idea of buying such an extravagant gadget for a kid who still hasn’t mastered long division. If she gave in, how would Ben ever learn that you can’t always get what you want? Goldman knew there was a good chance the iPod would soon be lost or abandoned, just like Ben’s toy-of-choice from last year, a bright blue drum set that now sits forlornly in the basement of their suburban New York home. But Ben nagged and pestered and insisted that “everyone has one.” Goldman began to weaken. Ben’s a good kid, she reasoned; she wanted him to have what the other kids had. After doing a neighborhood-mom check and finding that Ben’s peers were indeed wired for sound, Goldman caved–but not without one last attempt to salvage some lesson about limits. She offered her son a deal. We give you an iPod, you forfeit your birthday party. “Done,” he said. Then, without missing a beat: “Now what about getting me my own Apple G4?”
The cheerful space in Rhode Island’s Bradley Hospital could easily be mistaken for a classroom. Red sweatshirts and SpongeBob backpacks fill a row of cubbies marked with construction-paper name tags. A giant schedule of the day’s activities, including “lunch” and “story time,” hangs on a center wall, lined with yellow smiley-face cutouts to mark good behavior. But the 14 youngsters who arrive each morning for Bradley’s “Pediatric Partial” program aren’t ordinary students. They’re patients between the ages of nine months and six years with serious emotional and behavior problems. Some hurt themselves; others are violent and many have anxiety, depression and feeding disorders.According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, as many as 12 million children suffer from mental, behavioral or developmental disorders that interfere with their ability to function.
Rhonda Venable’s first appointment last Monday was with a severely depressed sophomore who’s worried he’s too promiscuous. After the session, Venable, associate director of Vanderbilt University’s counseling center, met with a bipolar teenager, assessed an anxious student for signs of schizophrenia and arranged emergency hospitalization for an upperclassman threatening suicide. “It was very much an ordinary day,” says Venable.Long gone are the sleepy college counseling centers of decades past where therapists administered career-aptitude tests and offered tip sheets for handling roommate conflicts. Today, acknowledging their role on the front lines of the teen-depression crisis, counselors and psychologists at the nation’s colleges and universities are doing more to try to help the rising numbers of students they see with clinical depression and other acute mental illnesses.
The short-term effects are invariably similar. Anyone connected-directly or indirectly–to the ghastly killings at Virginia Tech on Monday inevitably will be grieving in the days and weeks ahead. But what about the long-term impact of exposure to the massacre? In the past, trauma counselors believed everyone exposed to events like these were at high-risk for debilitating emotional problems. New research, however, suggests that most adults recover quite well and that only 10 to 20 percent of the population is at risk for severe or lasting problems like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).Whether it’s a school shooting, natural disaster, war or accident, most people respond to a horrible event with a combination of grief, surprise, anger or shock. “These emotions are completely normal,” says Lawrence H. Bergmann, a certified trauma specialist and founder of Post Trauma Resources in South Carolina. “They are appropriate responses, but they will go away in time.
An estimated 3,000 children lost a parent in the 2001 World Trade Center attack, instilling in them a legacy of anguish. The full psychological impact on those children may never be known, but a new study—the first empirical investigation of the youngsters who lost a parent on September 11—provides some significant pointers. The findings, released today by researchers at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, will appear in the April issue of the journal Biological Psychiatry. The investigation compared 45 kids who lost a parent in the WTC attack to 34 children who had not lost a parent, and found that in the years following the attack, the rate of psychiatric illness among children who lost a parent reached nearly 73 percent.
Earlier this week, a milkman named Charles Carl Roberts IV walked into a schoolhouse in Amish Pennsylvania and shot 10 young girls, killing five of them. Roberts’s wife was shocked by his behavior and told police she had no idea her husband was troubled until she discovered a suicide note that morning. Co-workers were equally stunned, although some told police they noticed Roberts had recently stopped chatting and joking, becoming quiet and sullen. Would anyone have been able been able to foresee Roberts’s explosive behavior? NEWSWEEK’s Julie Scelfo spoke with Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, chairman of the department of psychiatry at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, to find out. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: Is there any way to tell beforehand that someone is going to commit a violent act?Jeffrey Lieberman: Usually with violent crime, there’s a certain motive or rationale—crimes of passion, crimes of envy or revenge—related to some set of circumstances that are understandable….
Elyn R. Saks, an associate dean at the University of Southern California with triple appointments as a professor of law, psychology and psychiatry, is one of the nation’s leading experts on mental-health law. Saks has published three scholarly books and numerous journal articles, and graduated summa cum laude from Vanderbilt University, earned a master of letters from Oxford University, and, while completing her law degree, edited the Yale Law Journal.
The third apparent suicide at New York University in less than 40 days sent shock waves of sadness and concern across college campuses nationwide. Two students fell to their deaths from the 10th-floor balcony of the school library; a third fell from a sixth-floor window in a nearby building. Now NEWSWEEK has learned that Columbia, Harvard, Yale and MIT have been in discussions since last November with The Jed Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to suicide prevention, about developing the first-ever intercollegiate study to determine which kinds of programs make a measurable difference in reducing campus suicides. Another focus of the pilot study will be determining which programs are most effective at getting kids into counseling: undergrads who commit suicide are usually not the ones who reach out for help.
The threat many American teenagers fear most is not Saddam Hussein, but a schoolyard bully. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, six out of 10 American teenagers witness bullying in school at least once a day. “The biggest mistake parents make is telling their kids to just ignore the bullies,” says Jodee Blanco, a former victim turned activist. Parents should listen closely when their children say they are being harassed and help them devise assertive–not aggressive–responses. Make sure your child knows he or she is not alone, but “don’t rush in to solve the problem for them,” advises Barbara Coloroso, author of “The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander.” Most bullying is verbal, so teach children how to use words to defend themselves. (One response for insults like “dork” or “retard” is “That’s beneath both of us.”) It’s harder to pick on a group, so make sure your kid has a buddy (or two).
As the first anniversary of the 9-11 attacks draws nearer, victims’ families are quietly waging a letter-writing campaign asking TV networks to provide warnings before airing graphic footage of the attacks. Carie Lemack, a 27-year-old from Boston whose mother was on American Airlines Flight 11, says that when she sees the plane going into the North Tower, “it’s like watching my mother being murdered over and over again.” Other families say the same. “There’ll be a news show on… and suddenly it’ll go to a shot of the buildings falling,” says Kathy Ashton, whose 21-year-old son started work in the WTC on Sept. 10. “Before I can look away, I’ve seen Tommy die again.” Knowing that the coverage will only increase in the weeks to come, Lemack posted a form letter on the Families of September 11 Web site; so far, hundreds of letters have been sent to national cable networks and local news stations.