No Need to Fear, Just Calm the Atmosphere
Children and Mental Health Disorders
Aja King, M.A., LPCC
September 23, 2015
I have two wonderful boys named Austin and Chris ages 9 and 4. I describe Chris as an ‘old soul’ that is calm and reserved, slow to react, and when he speaks his words are meaningful. Austin’s personality is comparatively like mine, independent, robust, and an attitude to be reckoned with. Austin’s birth was just like his personality: very tough. I was diagnosed with Placenta Previa, which caused me to give birth to Austin 6-weeks early, October 2010 instead of December. As I observed Austin’s behavior develop, like any mother, I prayed for the best; especially since he was considered premature. During the course of being a mother of two children, I was also an unhappily wedded wife. My caseload was full: I was working full-time, mother of two, married, and beginning my Doctor of Education degree in Counseling Education. Wait, before I move forward, I would be remised if I did not mention that I am originally from Birmingham, Alabama and this is where all of my family originated. This part of the story is important because this is where my main support and sanity was established. Moving forward, as my husband and I pushed through a broken marriage and developed our careers, I observed the children and their brilliant personalities develop. You are probably asking by now how does this article relate to children and mood disorders? If you are still reading then I have caught your attention, and this also means I am getting to the point. While Austin was never diagnosed with any disorders, I often wondered if he had traits that should have been tested. Some of the characteristics included him being easily distracted, aggressive behavior, inability to follow directions, and blah, blah, blah. I know that this may sound silly for a three to four year old, but there were times when his behavior was unmanageable.
As a therapist with over 12 to 13 years of experience working with children, geriatrics, adolescents, and adults I believed that I knew what I was observing. Unfortunately, but fortunately, I was completely wrong. I need to mention that my husband and I moved the family from Alabama to Virginia to pursue the Washington, D.C. dream of working with the Capitol Hill ‘big wigs’. My husband, now ex-husband, was a computer programmer that worked next to Anderson Cooper during the President Obama’s second Presidential election, and I worked as Functional Family Therapist providing in-home therapy to families within the Washington, D.C. area. Life seemed great. Behind closed doors my ex-husband and I were constantly fighting and arguing on a regular basis. What does this all mean? Well, when I finally moved to Minnesota and ended the relationship with my husband, he remained in Virginia, Austin’s behavior gradually changed to a more manageable child.
Austin is still robust, full of attitude, and very, very independent, but the characteristics that mimicked a mood disorder were really due to the chaos within the home. As a therapist, I have several parents who bring their children for diagnostics in hopes of trying to determine if their child has ADHD. Teachers sometimes have trouble discerning between various diagnosis, and with ADHD being the highest diagnosis it is very easy for a child to obtain a label. When children become stressed their levels of cortisol rises. Cortisol is a chemical that is released when people are faced with fight or flight situations. Unfortunately, when children are placed into constant situations that never allow their cortisol levels to decrease, they begin to display behaviors that may mimick mental health disorders such as oppositional defiant disorder, ADHD, depression, or anxiety disorder. Chris and Austin displayed their own ways of distress due to our dysfunctional household, but because I was in the ‘snow globe’ it was hard for me to reflect on the issues. Once I became settled in Minnesota and removed myself from the stress and my own cortisol levels were lowered, I was able to heal and observe the children’s behavior for their true essence. The overall point is, I encourage parents to take an inventory of their environment and rate the level of calmness within their lives. If life feels chaotic for the adult, then the magnitude of chaos is tripled for the child. Children cannot process stress nor can they understand the rate that issues occur. Parents must not be quick to label, but be quick to control the environments, reduce stress, and in all, make life as simple for children as possible. Nevertheless, if their behavior is still persistent, then please seek professional help and follow through with the resources/ recommendations. Until next time Ya’ll…
Peace and Love,
Aja Dionna King, Ed.D., LPCC