teaching kids generosityToday’s guest post comes to us from family and non-profit advocates Jennifer L. Jacobson and Gretchen Barry. At a time of year when the message of “getting” comes across loudly and clearly to children, what can parents do to foster a more constructive mind set?

While raising kids has never been easy, it can be one of the most rewarding things that some people do–especially when children grow up to be productive, contributing members to society, and that includes knowing how to give back and enrich the communities in which they live. When should children start participating in the giving process? As early as possible. Even if they’re still toddlers; observing charitable acts that happen regularly and eventually understanding them, will leave a big impression. Learning how to give and developing that skill set is a lifelong journey. Giving is more than a task; it’s a mindset. A way of life, a way of looking at the world and asking, how can I help? How can I make connections between needs and time and resources? How can I bring awareness to specific needs and evoke action? 

1. Ask Your Kids How They Would Like to Help. 

If giving to a cause is new to your household, involve your kids as early as possible; tell them that your family has the chance to give back. Then, engage them in a conversation about the types of causes they may feel strongly about and ways they think they can help. This could involve helping families, working to save open spaces, caring for nature or a community garden, helping to save an endangered species, or helping those in need. Once you’ve identified key topics that your family is interested in, (make a list, as this helps visualize everything), start researching specific local organizations (add them to the list). Food kitchens Pet shelters and animal rescues Nature conservation efforts Fundraising for various activities for low-income kids, like camp Zoos, museums, and aquariums Schools and local libraries (these days, even they need as much help as they can get) Visitation of patients in hospitals Visitation of the elderly in nursing homes 

2. Make a Game Plan. 

Get creative about how your family can help the organization(s) you choose. Bake sales are traditional, but there are other ways to help. Talk it through with your family, map it out, and post the results somewhere in the home that is highly visible. Gamify it to some degree with tasks that turn into goals that turn into accomplishment, that result in stickers. 

3. Quick Tasks and Ideas That Can Make a Big Difference 

• Clear the clutter. Every 6 to 12 months, have a household closet cleaning day (that includes the toy chest, and maybe even the garage). Get everyone in the family to help. 

• Make a donate box. Put it out where your kids can add to it. Donate often, even if it’s small. 

• Make Detours to Giving. When shopping, make a trip down the canned foods isle. Ask your kids to pick a can of food to put in your donate box at home. 

• Find ways to raise money for donations. Hold a yard sale and give all or a portion of it to a selected charity. Do the same with a bake sale, an art sale, etc. Involve our kids at all stages. 

• Associate getting with giving. For birthdays and holidays, aside from their other gifts, give your kids a hand-written gift “certificate of giving” with a specified amount of money that they can gift to their favorite charity. Take your child to the charity to donate that money in person if you can. For non-local organizations, write a check, and have your child include a letter. 

• Volunteer time in your local community. From public gardens that need weeding, to historic buildings that need painting, or food banks that need help, find something age-appropriate that can engage your family. 

4. Growing the Mindset 

• Tell stories. There are lots of real-life stories about kids or groups of kids who have found creative ways to give back. Encourage empathy. Share appropriate stories of struggle. Ask kids; what would you do in this situation? How would you want people to help you? 

• Walk them through the cycle. If your kids are very young, say, “We’re going to give this can of food/winter coat/gift to ______. (Then explain the results.) “It will give them something to eat/keep them warm this winter/help them __________.” 

• Explain why you are doing it and what you’re looking for. “We don’t need to store all this stuff, when someone else could really use it.” Or, “I bet there is a kid out there who would really enjoy playing with that toy. I know you used to love it but how about if you pass it along to someone else, so they can enjoy it as much as you have?” Keep the focus on the people in need and your child’s ability to share an experience through an item. Establishing an impermanent relationship to “things” can help kids better understand the important of relationships over acquiring goods. 

• Develop a language of giving in your household. Find creative opportunities to incorporate it into regular conversation. Nothing is permanent, everything is in the process of change. We are stewards of the planet and the things we think we own, and we have the responsibility to help those in need when we have abundance. If ever there is a time when we are without, we hope that others will think of us and help us. Teaching children about the struggles of others not only develops a lifelong giving mindset, it also helps children understand how their words and actions impact those around them—a lesson that bears repeating. 

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See also:

Certain Parenting Tactics Could Lead to Materialistic Attitudes in Adulthood

COLUMBIA, MO; December 16, 2014—With the holiday season in full swing, many parents may be tempted to give children all the toys and gadgets they ask for or use the expectation of gifts to manage children’s behavior. Now, a new study from the University of Missouri and the University of Illinois at Chicago suggests that parents who overuse material goods as part of their parenting strategy may be setting children up for difficulties later in adulthood.
(Full story . . . )

To Give A FlowerA dear friend of mine (we’ll call her Lizzy) is the single mom of two daughters. Lizzy spends her days working at our school, and her evenings and weekends engaged in activities aimed at enriching the lives of her children—and often those of their friends as well. I admire her for a number of her stellar qualities, including both her ability to remain calm under pressure, and her ever-present sense of consideration for others. She is not easily harried or disturbed, and she would hate to be rude or hurtful to anyone. This is why I was astonished that someone could make her the focus of what I like to call a “parking-lot judgment.” You know, those occasional “helpful” comments from strangers we sometimes encounter in a public place (such as a grocery store) who seem to feel entitled to make snap judgments from visible aspects of our behavior (or that of our children) and even sometimes apparently feel superior enough to share these judgments.

But someone did, and Lizzy (very understandably) was moved to vent to those good friends who are allowed onto her Facebook wall:

Dear Old Lady at the Trader Joe’s Entrance,

You don’t know me, or my family. Unless you actually listened to the phone conversation I was having with my 14-year-old, you wouldn’t know that she’d called from sports practice needing help with her diabetes. Your comment that I should ‘take my private conversation elsewhere’ doesn’t help. If you’d taken the time to notice, I was walking out of the store without groceries, which meant I’d abandoned my cart, leaving the store to be able to concentrate on my daughter’s question. You don’t know what her blood sugar was, her level of activity, or how she was physically feeling. You don’t know what her blood sugar was at 3 am, or 4 am, or what supplies she has in her backpack at practice to help her deal. You don’t know how grateful I am that my daughter is thoughtful and responsible about her medical condition, and how happy I am that she will call me for back up when she needs it.

So while you have feelings about etiquette and modern technology, consider that there are issues at play that you know nothing about when you throw your zinger to a stranger. Consider that you are rattling a mother who is operating on little sleep, and is troubleshooting a relentless, unfair, and endlessly complicated medical issue with her brave, wonderful daughter who doesn’t deserve this monster of a disease.

Peace, Old Lady. Be nice.

Meanwhile, far away in another galaxy—or at least, another Trader Joe’s parking lot—an entirely different transaction was underway. You can read details in Lauren Casper’s post titled*, “To the Trader Joe’s Employee Who Noticed My Family in the Parking Lot.” It may be sufficient to say here that Lauren found herself in a similar position to Lizzy in that she was also the potential brunt of a variety of interpretations of her behavior (or that of her children). The main differences, perhaps, were that she and her child were dealing with autism, and her distress was perhaps more readily apparent than Lizzy’s.

In Lauren’s case, as she fled TJ’s with her husband, one screaming child, and another in tow—certain that judgments about her maternal failures were erupting in the minds of many of those around her (and she was probably right)—a TJ’s employee followed her out to the car and presented her with a bouquet of flowers accompanied by extremely encouraging words that made her day.

What made the difference between Lizzy’s and Lauren’s experiences? The luck of the draw, we could say. In each case, the circumstances might have been much different depending on which of the onlookers chose to speak and which chose not to. (Probably in both cases there were bystanders who could have encouraged as well as those who could have gone “judgy**.”)

But an important lesson we can come away with as we leave the parking lot is embodied in something radio legend and personal development guru Earl Nightingale once said: “When you judge others, you do not define them, you define yourself.”

Well, that’s a little scary. But think about it. Go back to Lizzy’s example. How do you feel about the older lady who berated a struggling mom for the imagined offense of having a private phone conversation in public?  Now think about the TJ’s employee who handed flowers to a struggling mom dealing with a screaming child? Which responder showed themselves to be more mature? How true are Nightingale’s words to you? How likely are you to engage in parking-lot judgments from now on?

And one last question. If these principles apply to strangers, how much more to family members and friends?

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*People are “entitled” to opinions, etc. Posts, movies and books are “titled.”

**Judgy IS in the dictionary. Or at least, the “Urban” one.

Lauren ParkesOver the past year, several notable research studies have shed light on some of the biological influences that contribute to anorexia, and have pointed the way to potential new treatment approaches and underscored the fact that this and other eating disorders may be more common than we may think. As much as I have wanted to cover this topic for Mom Psych, the task seemed to require someone who knows a lot more about it than I do—and today’s guest blogger does. Lauren Parkes, the niece of dear friends in Australia, is very intimately acquainted with the challenges of living with an eating disorder. We are privileged that she is willing to share her experience with us in the following post.

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Last week was mental health week, and I wanted to do something to raise awareness about something really important, but I was scared of what people would say. In fact, I was so scared of this that I changed schools, changed my name. I retracted from the social sphere because I wanted to disappear; to not be judged. I hoped I’d find happiness in places where traces of me did not exist. I wanted to get smaller and smaller until I stopped stealing oxygen from the rest of the population, to suffer through this thought-pattern in silence.

But I know now that that doesn’t help anyone; it means I went through this for nothing, which in retrospect I don’t believe to be true. Now I’m tired of denying I have suffered from acute anorexia for the last year, and lesser so in the years leading up to it, in fear of seeming whiny and attention-seeking (when I’d much rather dig a hole and hide in it). Why? Because it’s just making people continuously think—just as the media suggests—that living the way I and other anorexics do is okay. Normal. That we are healthy. I’ve been sick of girls telling me, when at a forced-hospitalisation weight, that I had an enviable figure. Even the nurse that was supposed to be looking after me said she wished she had my problem, whilst she inserted my nasal-gastric tube to pump food into me (I know. Messed. Up.)

I have to say something because it’s just not okay for people to want to live the way myself and other sufferers do in order to achieve a “look.” Society will give up everything for aesthetic, and its so sad that we get pulled into this whirlpool of self-worth being connected to numbers on scales or the reflection in the mirror. Type in “how to” into Google and you get the suggestion: “How to be anorexic.” Perhaps a year or so ago I would have clicked on this, like so many insecure people in pursuit of confidence in their physical selves as a means to attain inner-confidence, when confidence is the last thing anorexia gives you.

People who haven’t suffered from this illness will have trouble grasping that this isn’t about weight and food at all (that’s the result, not the cause), and furthermore that it isn’t a choice. I got it without wanting it, and it took me to hospital and psychiatric wards and back to realise something important that the world never teaches enough. Firstly: skinny isn’t all it’s made out to be. I was turned down jobs, told to eat a bigger breakfast from strangers, and even had someone spit at me when she drove past, yelling “EAT SOMETHING.” I broke down and cried, a heap of bones on the sidewalk, wanting nothing but to be accepted.

Secondly: Measurements, food-management, exercise or anything that’s abused to create a physical manifestation of how fragile you may feel inside (cuts, muscles, bones—take your pick); they’re not adequate means of finding content in oneself, nor is it a coping mechanism that delivers lasting comfort or sense of control. In fact, comfort and control are what it takes away from you, amongst countless other things. Achieving something physically does not awaken a self-contentedness that you never developed previously. If you don’t feel happy within yourself NOW, that’s the issue that needs dealing with, because trying to reinvent yourself physically or how you appear socially, is a separate matter—you’ll still be the same unhappy person on the inside.

I learnt that the hard way. Anorexia persists because whilst you still have variables in your life that can be more restricted and controlled, there is still hope in personal perfection. Perfection = supposed peace.

But in reality there are no montages, no gallant orchestra soundtracks, or video-edited camera pans that magically come together and form this moment when perfection is reached, to make you feel confident and strong. So you keep going, and going, and the mindset becomes exponentially perverted and deceived from the malnourished state of your brain, so that you lose sight of everything else. I did. All because I couldn’t deal with insecurity and because I lacked the resilience to tackle the everyday obstacles that life catapulted towards me. I couldn’t muster the courage to do anything but determine my worth by how people treated/mistreated me, what they said/didn’t say about me, when everything could have been different if I had learnt that your worth is only determined by YOU. That is the only steadfast sense of self-worth that remains a lifetime; mere comments that people say from day to day will change like the wind, and will leave you feeling like you have no concrete identity. But it’s there.

All of this may seem so commonsensical to you, as it does me now, but recognising logic when you currently reside in rigid illogicality of thought, doesn’t mean you are able to stop your ill outlook and behaviours. I can empathise with the mentally non-affected in this way, because I too was like you. I’d seen all the psychiatric ward documentaries and had not understood how they couldn’t simply fix themselves—that mental illness was not just people not wanting to change how they felt and making everyone else have to deal with them. But it’s REAL. What a terrifying revelation it has been for me.

I knew throughout my anorexia that I had a serious problem. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but at the same time it seemed so REAL to me, and I forgotten how to live any different. It made so much sense because over time, I’d biologically rewired my neurological pathways so that my body could run on the lack of food and excessive exercise I was doing, accommodating a thought pattern that pervertedly makes sense of defying life’s basic instinct: to eat and LIVE. That’s why anorexia is an extremely nature-defying problem, and why you can’t just “stop” when you want to, because your brain is physically not the same one you had before. And society often embraces its mindset.

I got onto various extreme diets during my problem; raw foodism, veganism, gluten-free-ism for the non-gluten-intolerant, etc. and I was championed for it. I never knew I had anorexia until it was too late, because my friends, family, every magazine to date, were praising me for having “so much self-control,” when many of these diets are actually used as a disguise for socially-accepted eating disorders. I wasn’t doing it “for the animals,” “for the environment,” or even why I thought I was doing it: “to be the healthiest person I can be.” It was for control, and it never gave me that.

Anorexia is the biggest killer out of all mental illnesses (20% die). Even though I’m still alive, I’ve lost friends, bone density, muscle-mass, the ability to have children (temporarily, hopefully), have scars on my wrists, have bald patches on my head, been in lock-down rooms on suicide-watch, had parkinson/epileptic-looking panic-attacks, and wasted my high school years to insecurity—with the cherry-on-top: a whole year of anorexia and suicidal pre-occupation.

All of this happens, around the world, all the time. On and on. In silence. With a false smile to hide the pain. I’m sick of my poor friends having cuts on their arms. Of primary schoolers throwing up their meals. Of people praising others who have lost weight when they were healthy before. Of guys enslaving themselves at the gym because they feel “puny.” Of hearing stories like several of my friends having been raped by their fathers and relatives when they were a child (the ward I went to is a very, sad place) and being forever shaken from the aftermath. I’m sick of people saying to depressed people: “just be happy” and to those with eating disorders: “why don’t you just EAT?”

Try telling a cancer patient to cure themselves, and you’ll see how helpful statements like that are. I’m sick of boys having to act like emotionless statues at school to fit in, only to cry silently in their beds at night, wanting to disappear. I know, because I hear their stories. I’ve held them when they cried.

No matter if you are heterosexual, homosexual, a schizophrenic intellectual. A white man, brown girl, green, blue, purple or black, an LSD-tripping insomniac. If you’re an anorexic perfectionist, an OCD receptionist, suicidal atheist, an alcoholic therapist—Yes, okay, I’m not going to feature in an Eminem album. What I mean is, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from; you ALL have a voice and a story, and you are entitled to feel not okay. We’re only human: and society has to stop teaching us that we shouldn’t possess things that make us a member of our species, having to shove all the emotional baggage, all our unique traits, in the cupboard under the stairs like they’re Harry Potter hiding from the Dursley’s. It shouldn’t have to be this way.

Please, if you’re suffering, seek help. You deserve happiness. Recovery is possible; take it from someone who thought it wasn’t. If you are suffering from an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, whatever it is you carry on your shoulders, it’s okay to lean on those around us for support. If you are a parent/friend/family member looking for someone with personal insight into any of the above-mentioned issues, please don’t hesitate to contact me or leave me a question.

Remember: you are not a college admission rank, a statistic, a grade, a measurement, the number of friends you have, the amount of boys/girls who like you, the classes you’re good at, what you eat, the compliments you receive, the criticisms that come your way, nor are you the things you do or fail to do. NOTHING can encompass all that you are, and when you try to fit into these types of categories, or determine your worth by them, you’re reducing yourself. You’re so much more.

LAUREN PARKES

 

Lauren now has a regular blog on Mom Psych: Please follow her on Inside Anorexia.

 

 

teen mental healthBefore we quite leave September’s topic of suicide prevention to focus on Bullying Prevention Month in October, I wanted to offer up this informative guest post from Dr. Jesse Viner, Founder and Executive Medical Director at YellowbrickDr. Viner is a recognized expert in the treatment of eating disorders, difficulties resulting from trauma and abuse, and bipolar disorder. He has served as Director of Adult Psychiatry Inpatient Services for Northwestern University Medical School; Medical Director of Four Winds Chicago and Director of University Behavioral Health. A Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, he is currently on the faculty of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and The Family Institute at Northwestern University. 

Mom Psych is pleased to support organizations that respect the developmental, neurobiological and psychosocial underpinnings of mental health in their efforts to help teens and young adults. I hope you will connect with Dr. Viner on Google+.

While no parent wants to believe that their child would ever consider taking their own life, suicide is actually the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the CDC. It’s vital for parents of young adults to understand and recognize the warning signs of depression, the potential health impact of a suicide attempt, and how to seek help if their child is having suicidal thoughts. That’s why Yellowbrick, a Chicago-based treatment center for troubled emerging adults, has put together an infographic highlighting some of the key things parents need to know about depression and suicide. Learn some of the key facts and view the original graphic below.

Identifying Warning Signs and Causes of Suicidal Thoughts

While research has shown that there is no reliable indicator of an impending suicide, there are certain behaviors that may mean your child is at risk for a suicide attempt. Symptoms of depression, such as withdrawal from other people, a loss of interest in activities that once brought joy, expressions of despair, keeping secrets, and abnormal sleeping patterns may be signs that your young adult is having suicidal thoughts.

Unfortunately, certain mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, also have a higher risk for suicide. Anorexia nervosa puts young people at a greater risk for suicide because starvation affects mood and impairs decision-making abilities. Other factors that may increase the risk for suicide include a genetic predisposition to mental illness or substance abuse, familial influences, peer influences, and one or more previous suicide attempts.

How a Suicide Attempt Affects Mental Health

The CDC reports that more young people survive suicide attempts than die, and an estimated 157,000 people between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical attention for self-inflicted injuries every year. However, physical injuries aren’t the only type of harm associated with a suicide attempt. Because there is a gateway affect for the risk-reward center of the brain, carrying out one suicide attempt makes it easier to carry out another, according to Yellowbrick. Additionally, a suicide attempt is often followed by feelings of guilt and shame, which can cause increased actual or perceived social isolation. This in turn can heighten existing emotional tensions and cause a young adult to believe that they have no support network or meaningful connections in their life.

Getting Help for At-Risk Young Adults

Parents of young adults who have attempted suicide are often unsure of the best way to talk to their child or seek help. One of the key issues that Yellowbrick points out is that young adults often experience deep shame after a failed suicide attempt, so it’s important for parents to demonstrate acceptance and a lack of judgment. Parents can offer their support by empathizing with their child, even if what their child is primarily feeling is anger. Young adults need to be able to feel that they have a safe outlet for their emotions, since bottling their emotions up may lead them to hide future suicidal thoughts. Parents need to remember that they can’t read their child’s mind and shouldn’t make assumptions about what he or she is thinking, but should rather establish open communication.

Because depression is a serious mental illness and suicide is a serious public health problem, a young adult who is at risk for suicide may also need to seek help and support in the form of counseling and treatment. Treatment programs like Yellowbrick can help young adults build meaningful and self-affirming connections, work through difficult transitional periods, learn valuable life skills, and develop emotional resilience.

teen mental health

Infographic courtesy of Yellowbrick

World Suicide Prevention DaySuicide is a widespread public health problem, albeit one that many people find it difficult to talk about, whether they are at risk themselves or have a loved one who is at risk. To combat the stigma that encourages silence, World Suicide Prevention Day was established by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) on September 10, 2003.

This year’s theme for World Suicide Prevention Day is “One World Connected,” chosen in order to emphasize how important connectedness is to those who may be at risk for suicide.

“Studies have shown that social isolation can increase the risk of suicide, and, conversely, that having strong human bonds can be protective against it.” writes the IASP, “Reaching out to those who have become disconnected from others and offering them support and friendship may be a life-saving act.”

That said, many of those who complete suicide do have strong connections with loved ones. It is important to recognize there are multiple factors that increase the risk of suicide, and perhaps the most influential of these is mental health. Approximately 90% of those who die by suicide in Western nations suffer from at least one mental disorder, so prevention efforts must include connecting people to the mental healthcare services that can help them reduce their risk.

Connecting, of course, requires communication. Unfortunately, a common belief is that asking someone if they are thinking about suicide may encourage them to do so. This unfortunate myth can do much more harm than good. “The truth,” says the Mayo Clinic, is that “when someone is in crisis or depressed, asking if he or she is thinking about suicide can help. Giving a person an opportunity to open up and share their troubles can help alleviate their pain and open a path to solutions.”

This doesn’t mean that all forms of communication are equally beneficial, however. In its first-ever report on suicide prevention, released for World Suicide Prevention Day 2014, the WHO cautions against media coverage that sensationalizes and glamorizes, leading to an increased risk of “copycat” suicides. “Media practices are inappropriate when they gratuitously cover celebrity suicides, report unusual methods of suicide or suicide clusters, show pictures or information about the method used, or normalize suicide as an acceptable response to the crisis or adversity,” says the report. While one man’s gratuitous report may be another’s informative news brief, the WHO describes responsible reporting as “avoiding detailed descriptions of suicidal acts, avoiding sensationalism and glamourization, using responsible language, minimizing the prominence of suicide reports, avoiding oversimplifications, educating the public about suicide and available treatments, and providing information on where to seek help.”

There is still much to learn about suicide prevention, but the good news is that the past few decades have seen great leaps in understanding some of the factors that increase risk for, as well as those that provide protection from, suicide. The awareness message of World Suicide Prevention Day, obviously, is that suicide is preventable. There are therapies that have proven effective, but unfortunately, the stigma associated with mental disorders—and with suicidality—can be a major barrier to seeking help.

An important myth to eradicate is that suicidal thinking is an enduring characteristic. “Heightened suicide risk is often short-term and situation-specific,” writes the WHO. “While suicidal thoughts may return, they are not permanent and an individual with previously suicidal thoughts and attempts can go on to live a long life.”

For more information:

Mom Psych: Suicide and Self Harm Index

Preventing Suicide: A Global Imperative ~The World Health Organization 2014

International Association for Suicide Prevention: Resources

Liebster AwardInformation is like oxygen, it has been said. It can’t be stopped by walls or barbed wire, and it has the power to wake the groggy and revive the listless. Not everyone uses it well, of course. But anyone who has read The Onion‘s recent report that “Most of Earth’s Oxygen Is Used for Complaining” will be glad to know there are people who use oxygen for higher purposes, recirculating it back into the community in the form of social support and education. In my view, whenever someone lives and breathes to help others, they stand as examples of people who use the oxygen of information for a positive purpose. And if they do that through their blog posts, which—thanks to the nature of the Internet are likely to be around for a good, long time—they are planting seeds for forests that will freshen the air for years to come.

That’s why I’m honored to have the opportunity to showcase some particularly oxygenating blogs as I nominate some of my favorites for the Liebster Award. There are, of course, a number of awards that are shared among bloggers, and each has its distinctions. What I love about the Liebster award is that it’s intended for up-and-coming blogs of value: the kind that have the potential to breathe new life into the blogosphere by offering the kind of information that can be life-giving, life-changing.

The blogger who nominated me for the Liebster certainly belongs in this category herself, and I’m honored to think she feels the same way about me. We’ve never met, but I have been following her blog and Twitter feed for some time. She is Sam Ross of Teenage Whisperer. What I love about this blog is that it drills very deeply into one area that I cover, but Sam covers it in far more depth than I’m able to from my birds-eye view. While I talk about attachment, relationship-building, and child development in general—sometimes touching on adolescent issues—Sam’s life work is to help troubled, disengaged, challenging teens (and to teach others how to help them effectively too). This is a group of children who are often thrown away by a society that tends to assume there is no hope for them, no help—a society that doesn’t believe in personal change after a certain stage of development. They need people like Sam—and they also need for people like the rest of us to read Sam’s post “My Consumption, Your Compassion.” Thank you so much for this post, Sam, as well as for the nomination.

Now it’s my turn to fulfill part of the responsibility that comes along with this nomination. To be eligible to display the award, of course, you have to pass the love along. If you are one of the nominees I’ve listed below, here’s how to accept this award before displaying it on your blog.

My Liebster Award Nominees, 2014:

A Canvas of the Minds

This is a collaborative effort by a number of bloggers dedicated to fighting the stigma surrounding mental health issues. These writers, who candidly share their own struggles and epiphanies, share Mom Psych’s passion to cut through the myths and misconceptions to educate the public about mental health and support healing and understanding. For example, I offer this post from a Canvas blogger, titled “In Loving Memory,” which addresses some of the misconceptions about suicide.

Attachment and Resilience

Apart from genetics, the parent-child attachment bond is a key environmental influence on mental health and well-being, and Colby Pearce—a clinical psychologist in Adelaide, South Australia—writes about this topic with passion, insight and experience. One of my favorite posts from this blog is “Kindness is Magic,” because it illustrates why I place such a high value on the information Colby shares here. “The way adults treat any generation of children shapes the way those children will, in turn, treat the next generation when they are adults,” he writes. “It follows that if we are seeking to create a more gentle, humanistic world we adults need to pause and reflect on how we interact with the current generation of children.” This information is not only for parents. It’s for everyone who hopes to contribute to healthy communities and a kinder world.

No Points for Style

I go to this blog whenever I feel myself beginning to slip into “Easy-Button” perspectives toward complex mental health issues. Written by Adrienne Jones, who studied sociology and creative writing at The University of New Mexico, NPS addresses mental health from deep in the trenches. “I created No Points for Style so that I would have a place to write and share my experiences raising a child who has a serious mental illness,” Adrienne writes. “Over time, No Points for Style has become a place for me to write about much more than mothering Carter. It’s a memoir-in-progress where I share life as it is happening now, and also life as it used to be, exploring my experience as a bully victim, my first marriage, and my aunt’s violent suicide when I was 8 years old, among many other things.” Adrienne’s approach is honest, straightforward and unapologetic. Her blog will expand your capacity for empathy in ways you’ve never dreamed about. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Adrienne at Blogher ’13 in Chicago. She’s as genuine in person as she is in her writing.

Creating a Family

Perhaps not (strictly speaking) a “Psych” blog, Creating a Family nevertheless works toward supporting mental health by educating the public about infertility and adoption. “We admit up front that we would love for every child in this world to have a family,” write the authors, “and we would especially love to help find homes for older kids and kids with special needs. But, we know that this is not the right decision for every family, and we want to help every family find their right path to parenthood.” If you only read one post from this blog, I recommend one that shoots down one of the most common misconceptions about adoption: “Adoption Is Not the Same as Having a Child of Your Own.”

Aunt Psych

If it seems self-serving for me to nominate a sister-blog—or quite literally, a sister-in-law blog—the simple truth is there really is no other blog that I could find that illustrates so well the vital importance of aunts, uncles and extended family to the well-being of children. (I did try to find one). Few blogs focus on these often-neglected family members, and certainly not with the humor and rapier wit of the woman my brother married. As proof, I offer two of my favorite posts from Jo. “Sneakiness Is Not Genetic . . . RIght?” and “Teaching Friendship through Physical Contact and Body Language.” You’ll definitely want to bookmark this one.

I got you on the “how to live forever” part, didn’t I? Okay, it depends on your interpretation of forever, but let’s just say “longer than you might otherwise expect,” especially when you consider your other life habits. But what does health and longevity have to do with the residents of Roseto, Pennsylvania? You probably have a general idea of where I’m going with this, but pull up a chair and pour yourself a glass of (red) wine anyway. If you haven’t heard this story before, you’ll find it a cool little piece of Italian-American history.

                                    

The Roseto Effectnce upon a time in America, as long ago as the 1950s, there was a physician named Benjamin Falcone who practiced in Pennsylvania near the small towns of Bangor and Nazareth. During the 17 years he had been treating patients in the vicinity, Dr. Falcone noticed that older residents from a third nearby town, called Roseto, hardly ever needed to be seen for heart problems, even though the rate of heart attacks within the other two towns, and across the United States in general, were increasing steadily.

Could it have something to do with their relative seclusion? The inhabitants of Roseto had emigrated almost en masse from an Italian village called Roseto Valfortore, located in the province of Foggia. Hoping to escape poverty in their homeland, about 1,200 inhabitants of Roseto Valfortore had been issued passports bound for America by 1894. After they arrived, existing cultural pressures and social restrictions prevented them from scattering and melting into the local populations, so they eventually built their own community on a rather confined hillside, essentially separated from nearby English, Welsh or German immigrants. By 1912, Roseto’s population had exceeded 2,000 and it incorporated to become the first American municipality governed by Italians. By the time Dr. Falcone began to notice the extraordinary heart health of its residents, Roseto was a thriving town, accepted and even admired by neighboring Bangor and Nazareth, and served by the same doctors and hospitals.

One day, Dr. Falcone attended a local medical society talk given by a visiting physician from the University of Oklahoma, Dr. Stewart Wolf, who frequently spent summers at a nearby farm. Dr. Falcone invited Dr. Wolf out to a local pub for a beer and in the course of their conversation, mentioned the strange phenomenon he had noticed in the Roseto residents.

It was now 1961, and Wolf was intrigued enough to engage some of his colleagues from the University of Oklahoma in taking a deeper look at the Roseto effect. Along with sociologist John G. Bruhn, the research team began to compare medical histories, physical exams, and lab tests in a large sample of Rosetans—as well as the inhabitants of Bangor and Nazareth—hoping to find the key to the apparent health and happiness of this unusual community.

What they found stymied them. Yes, the evidence confirmed it was true that coronary heart disease and death from myocardial infarction (heart attack) was strikingly lower in Roseto than in its neighboring towns. Importantly, mental illness (including senile dementia) was also much lower: half the rate of Bangor, and only a third the rate of Nazareth. But at first, no one could understand why.

“The findings were surprising because of a greater prevalence of obesity among the Rosetans,” wrote Wolf and Bruhn in their report, published in 1979 under the title, The Roseto Story: An Anatomy of Health. “A meticulous study of dietary habits established that Rosetans ate at least as much animal fat as did the inhabitants of Bangor and Nazareth.” This was reflected, not only in the high obesity rates of Roseto, but also in the fact that the town’s rates of hypertension, diabetes, and measures of serum cholesterol concentration closely matched those of the other communities. Smoking and exercise habits were also similar, and the researchers were able to eliminate ethnic and genetic factors from the mix. After all, inhabitants who left Roseto to live in other communities soon became subject to the higher death rates that plagued the rest of the nation.

What, then, could explain Roseto’s strange effect? (And no, people weren’t drinking from a special communal well or making mysterious concoctions from South American miracle plants). Having already ruled out diet, exercise, genetics, and other factors that the medical community has long believed to be “risk factors” for heart disease, the researchers turned to studying the way Rosetans lived.

What they discovered was that their initial rejection by outlying communities had forced Rosetans to turn to one another for support and mutual help. Ultimately, the researchers found, the only real differences between Roseto and its neighboring communities were social ones. Roseto’s citizens enthusiastically took on the responsibility of being their neighbor’s keeper.

The researchers described the character of the townsfolk as buoyant, fun-loving, enterprising, optimistic, cohesive, and mutually supportive. “Our first sociological study of Roseto revealed that crises and problems were coped with jointly by family members with support from relatives and friends,” wrote Bruhn and Wolf. “Following a death in the family, interfamilial differences were forgotten, and the bereaved received food and money from relatives and friends, who at times temporarily assumed responsibility for the care of the children of the bereaved. When financial problems arose, relatives and friends rallied to the aid of the family, and in instances of abrupt, extreme financial loss the community itself assumed responsibility for helping the family.”

In addition, families weren’t secretive. Their problems were shared—and then worked out with the help of the local priest or family “pillars.” Pillars were often older single women in the community who had taken on the responsibility of aging parents and who were highly respected and valued for their role in maintaining cohesive family and community ties.

In Roseto, nearly everyone had a vital role to fulfill—whatever their age or gender. At the end of the day, they gathered together in each other’s homes, social clubs or the local diner. But the cornerstone of life in Roseto was the family. “Family traditions provide a buffer in times of crisis and a source of stability for the community,” wrote the researchers in their 1979 report.

Of course, even in Roseto life wasn’t always rosy, and a good study wouldn’t be complete without taking a look at the “outliers,” or those whose circumstances were remarkably different from the main sample. There were some who were marginalized in Roseto, either because they had no ethnic or social ties within the community or because, for whatever reason, they had been excluded or had excluded themselves from the community’s social culture. Like their neighbors in Bangor and Nazareth, these marginalized Rosetans showed a higher incidence of illness and myocardial infarction than the general population. Indeed, in one case history, a seemingly healthy “Mr. F.” commented to the researchers (five years before he died of a heart attack) that “I don’t fit in the town—I don’t live like they do—I’m not like the Rosetans.”

He was not the only marginalized inhabitant who missed out on the health benefits of living in Roseto. “Hard work and family and personal problems were common to most of them,” wrote Bruhn and Wolf. “In addition they emphasized self-reliance and responsibility for their own actions and hence enjoyed little or no family or community support in times of crisis.”

With these observations in hand after two years of study, it wasn’t difficult for the researchers to predict in 1963 that, “If and when Roseto’s traditional close-knit, mutually supportive social structure began to crumble . . . the town’s relative immunity to death from myocardial infarction would gradually come to an end.”

In fact, that is exactly what happened. As Roseto gradually became Americanized, adopting what the researchers called “materialistic and individualistic values,” mortality from heart attacks shot up, reaching the prevailing rate in Bangor by 1975. Unfortunately, the study didn’t follow up on mental health effects, but there is no shortage of more recent research linking mental health and well-being to social support—or indeed linking physical health to mental health.

Can materialistic and individualistic values really do so much harm to the health of a community? Isn’t independence one of the greatest gifts we can give our children?

It’s a valid question. As parents we certainly want our children to grow up knowing how to dress themselves, regulate themselves and exercise a great deal of the trait that we call “independence.” But as you consider independence in terms of community, also consider that the human brain is not only itself a mass of connections that feed the health of mind and body, but the stability of these connections is maintained and supported by reliable interconnectivity with other human brains. And contrary to the fears of some, you can’t have “too many” connections. You may not treasure them all equally, but all serve a purpose and contribute to the larger safety net that is community.

That said, I wouldn’t dream of arguing with Monty Python: “We’re all individuals! Yes, we ARE all different!” But we are individuals who, because we are human, are pro-social beings. Whether we like it or not, this makes us interdependent, and that’s not so bad—in fact, it’s actually the way of all living things.

Of course, if you prefer, you can try to do “forever” on your own . . . but the odds aren’t going to be stacked in your favor.

 

 

RELATED RESEARCH:

Humans Are Happier when They Do the Right Thing; It Also Helps Them Overcome Difficulties

June 12, 2013—Communities that stick together and do good for others cope better with crises and are happier for it, according to University of British Columbia researcher John Helliwell and colleagues. Their work suggests that part of the reason for this greater resilience is the fact that humans are more than simply social beings, they are so-called ‘pro-social‘ beings. In other words, they get happiness not just from doing things with others, but from doing things both with and for others. The paper is published online in Springer’s Journal of Happiness Studies.”

Heart Disease Risk Linked with Spouses’ Social Support

February 6, 2014—Matters of the heart can influence actual heart health, according to new research. A study from researchers at the University of Utah shows that the ways in which your spouse is supportive—and how you support your spouse—can actually have significant bearing on your overall cardiovascular health.

People Who Are Socially Isolated Experience More Pain after Hip Replacement

October 27, 2013—Could being socially isolated affect how well you do and the amount of pain you experience after surgery? Researchers at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) set out to test this hypothesis. They found that people who lacked good social ties were much more likely to experience serious, ongoing pain following total hip replacement surgery two or more years after the procedure.

People Mean Most for our Collective Happiness

October 7, 2013—Swedish soccer star Zlatan is associated with happiness, but not iPhones. A new study at the Sahlgrenska Academy and Lund Universitysuggests that our collective picture of what makes us happy is more about relationships, and less about things.

PeopleWho Needs Them?
 Nov 2, 2011 … As much as our inner cowboy might like the idea of riding off alone into the sunset, real people cannot thrive that way.
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