Tag Archive for depression

Let the Adventures Begin…To Prevent Anxiety

We have witnessed a dramatic rise in children with depression and anxiety that began even before the COVID pandemic. In fact, anxiety among children increased 27% from 2016 to 2019. Depression increased 24% during the same time period. In 2020, about 9.7% of children carried a diagnosis of anxiety and 4% had a diagnosis of depression. (See Research Update: Children’s Anxiety and Depression on the Rise.) I don’t know about you, but I find this very disturbing. So, you can imagine how excited I get when I find research suggesting a simple way to potentially reverse this alarming trend.

A study led by the University of Exeter offers a perfect example. In this study, researcher surveyed nearly 2,500 parents of children 5- to 11-years-old. The surveys asked parents how often their children engaged in “thrilling and exciting” play that might arouse “some fear and uncertainty” as well as their child’s play in general and their general mental health and mood. They discovered that children who spent more time playing outside had fewer of the “internalizing problems” associated with depression and anxiety. In other words, they were less likely to have symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Playing outside provides greater opportunity for “thrilling, exciting” play. It gives children the opportunity to experiment with and safely test their limits. It is adventurous, rewarding… and free. Experimenting with their ability, experiencing adventure, and feeling rewarded combine to increase a child’s confidence, ability to plan, self-awareness, and positive sense of self. And, because it’s fun children will do it often.

So, if you want to decrease the chances of your child experiencing diagnosable symptoms of depression or anxiety, take them outside for some adventurous play. Give them the freedom to encounter challenges and risks in their daily play. If you’re looking for some adventurous activities to try…

  • Go for an overnight camping trip.
  • Go for a hike.
  • Go swimming, paddling, or rafting on a river or lake.
  • Create an obstacle course in your backyard…or living room.
  • Explore the woods with a friend.
  • Let your children walk to the store alone.
  • Try out new skills like skateboarding, jumping on a trampoline, or rock climbing.
  • Climb a tree.

What other adventurous activities have you engaged in with your children? Or allowed your children to engage in with other children?

Another Way to Beat Depression in Your Family

Depression is a growing problem in our country, especially among our teens and young adults. However, an interesting study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests a way to limit depression in your family. This study involved 72 males between 18- and 25-years-old who scored in the moderate to severe range of depression based on Beck’s Depression Inventory Scale. These young men were randomly assigned to one of two groups for twelve weeks. One group talked with a researcher about neutral topics like movies or hobbies. The other group received education and support to help them eat a Mediterranean Diet. Those who ate the Mediterranean Diet showed a significant decrease in depressive symptoms. Amazingly, 100% of them showed significant improvement in depressive symptoms and 36% dropped from moderate/severe depression to low/minimal depression on the Becks Depression Inventory Scale.

Why would a healthy diet like the Mediterranean Diet have such a profound effect on well-being and mood? Because it provides a person with the nutrients they need to act as the precursors and building blocks for the neurotransmitters that promote positive mental health.

For me, this information presents another way for us to limit depression in our families. Eat a healthy diet filled with the nutrients necessary to build the neurotransmitters we need for our physical health and our mental health. This study focused specifically on the Mediterranean diet, but I believe any healthy, well-balanced diet will help promote positive mental health. In fact, other studies have shown that eating vegetables improved mood (Read What? That Can Increase Happiness? and Diet, Fitness, & Sleep…Oh My for more.)  Proteins may also help manage anxiety over the long term. (See The Connection Between Protein and Your Mental Health – Mental Health Connecticut (mhconn.org))

Isn’t that great news? You can promote well-being and positive mental health in your family by encouraging a healthy diet. It’s a win-wind. Why not start today?

Protecting Our Young Adults…AKA Saving the Life of a Young Adult

According to the 2017 Center for Disease Control and Prevention Data, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young adults, accounting for 18% of deaths in this age group. That is terrible news. But researchers from McGill University published a study that suggests a simple way to decrease suicide in young adults. This same factor can reduce depression and anxiety as well. Simply put, young adults who perceived higher levels of social support showed lower levels of anxiety and depression. Specifically, young adults who felt they had someone they could depend on for help experienced 47% less severe depression and 22% less anxiety than those with perceived less social support. They were also at a 40% decreased risk of experiencing suicidal ideation and attempts. 

You likely know people in this age group. You may even have a child in this age group. Either way, I’m sure you’d like to see fewer young adults suffering from depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide. You can help make this happen. You can help decrease the number of young adults suffering from depression, anxiety, and thought of suicide simply by welcoming them into your life. Here are four ideas to help.

  • If you have children who are young adults, reach out to them regularly. Make a consistent investment in their lives to remain connected to them. Make sure they know they remain part of the family even if they live outside the home. Be available to them when they reach out to you. Even for young adults, time is one of the greatest currency of love.
  • When you drop your children off at college, look for the potential social groups they might enjoy. Connect them with those groups. Encourage their involvement in some social groups in or around their school.  This may include young adult groups through churches, school clubs, or community groups.
  • If there are young adults in your religious community, reach out to them. Call them. Send them cards. Even invite them to lunch. Many college age people are looking for a good home-cooked meal while away from home. Make sure they know you care about them.
  • If you are a church or religious community and a young adult walks into your service, welcome them. Talk to them. Find out their name. Get to know them. Invite them back and remember them when they return. Even reach out to them during the week with a card or a call. Make them feel a part of the community.

These may sound like obvious ideas, but I have met too many young adults who could not find this connection anywhere…too many.  Make sure the young adults in your life know they are welcome in your family and your community. Invest in their lives. You might just save a life!

Adolescence, Depression, & Technology

Two recent studies explored the relationship between adolescents, video games, and internet use. Unwrapping the first study reveals a surprise. A research team from UCL, Karolinska Institute, and the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute reviewed data from 11,341 adolescents born between 2000-2002. At the age of 11 years, these adolescents answered questions about their time spent on social media, time spent playing video games, and general internet use. They also answered questions about their mood, any loss of pleasure, and levels of concentration at the age 14 years. After ruling out other potential factors, the research team found that boys who played video games most days at age 11 had 24% fewer depressive symptoms at the age of 14 than did boys who played video games less than one time a mouth. Somewhat surprisingly, moderate video game playing at 11 years of age was associated with fewer depressive symptoms at 14 years of age.

A second study, published in Child Development, gathered data from a study involving 1,750 high school students over a three-year period, through the ages of 16, 17, and 18 years. This study explored risk factors contributing to problematic internet use (or internet addiction). The research suggested three harmful effects of problematic internet use and each of these effects had a reciprocal relationship with internet use. In other words, problematic internet use increased these negative outcomes and these negative outcomes increased problematic internet use. The negative outcomes included higher levels of depression, increased substance abuse, and lower levels of academic achievement. We all want to avoid those outcomes. So, what risk factors contributed to problematic internet use? And what can you do about it?

  1. A lack of satisfying relationships or the perceived inadequacy of social networks contributed to problematic internet use. In other words, loneliness predicts problematic internet use. With that in mind, involve your children in community. Enroll them in scouting, sports, dance lessons, theatre, or other group activities. Involve them in a local church youth group. Give them the opportunities to develop relationships with peers and other trusted adults in the community.
  2. Parenting practices, as perceived by the teen, contributed to the level of teen internet use. Parenting perceived as warm, empathetic, interested, and close led to healthy internet use. Parenting perceived as neglectful, being inconsistently available and consistently unresponsive, predicted problematic internet use. This draws attention to the need to build a positive connection with your children. Take time to develop a warm, loving relationship by spending time together and engaging in activities together. Talk, go on outings together, worship together, attend their concerts and sporting events, share meals together. Invest time and attention in developing a positive, loving relationship with your children. (By the way, did you know your parenting style could be killing you?)
  3. Paternal neglect, neglect by a father, had a particularly strong relationship to problematic internet use. Dads, get involved with your children. If you need ideas for involvement in your children’s lives, check out the “cheat codes for Dads.”

Exercise Your Depression

Families and happiness seem to go hand in hand. At least it appears so in Facebook posts and television commercials. But we all know families experience hardships and struggles as well. In fact, our family members might struggle with depression and that depression may deepen in times of stress like we are experiencing today.

If you, or someone in your family, struggles with depression, you know how it impacts the whole family. If so, I have good news. Two studies, one from 2017 and one from 2020, suggest a fun and effective way to help reduce the symptoms of depression. Exercise…aerobic exercise to be more specific.  In both studies, engaging in an 8-week moderate to intense aerobic exercise program reduced depressive symptoms. The most recent study (2020) found that those who had a more severe baseline of depressive symptoms were the most likely to respond positively to an aerobic exercise regime. So, if you or someone in your family struggles with depression, start exercising today. Here are some tips to help you get started.

  • Pick an aerobic exercise you will most likely enjoy. You could walk, jog, bike ride, swim, row, or many more. You can engage in these activities indoors in a gym, on a treadmill, an elliptical, or a stationary bike. Or you can enjoy these activities outdoors, allowing allow you to enjoy the benefits of nature as well.
  • Buddy up. If you struggle with depression, ask a family member or friend to join you. Join a class or group designed for that activity. If your family member struggles with depression, join them in their exercise routine. You can motivate one another while sharing company and time together. You will not only reap the benefits of exercise but the benefit of companionship and a growing relationship.
  • Make it a habit to encourage. Express gratitude for the time you share while exercising. Acknowledge improvements. Recognize the beauty around you, especially if you choose an outdoor aerobic exercise. As you do, you will also realize the positive impact of gratitude and awe on your mood and the mood of your exercise partner.

These studies measured improved results after only 8 weeks, but you might just find
yourself enjoying this so much you make a lifetime habit out of it. I know I did. So, if you or a family member are feeling depressed start exercising today.

Family Happiness is for the Birds

Remember Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds? Creepy…but recent studies show birds play a very different role in our lives and the lives of our families. For instance, the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research explored the data collected from 6,000 people living in 26 European countries and from a variety of socioeconomic levels. They discovered that the richness of bird species in their living environment was positively associated with life-satisfaction. The greater the bird species in an area, the greater life-satisfaction people in that area reported. In fact, a 10% increase in bird diversity led people to report an increase in life satisfaction equal to the life-satisfaction reported when a person experienced a 1.53 increase in their salary.

You might be thinking, “Birds? What are you talking about? That’s crazy!” I know. That was my initial thought as well. But think of the joy you feel when you see the first robin of spring. Last spring, we saw orioles in our neighborhood for the first time and it was genuinely exciting. But don’t take my word for it. Another study in 2017 involving 1,023 participants who lived in an urban setting explored the impact of vegetation cover and bird diversity on depression, anxiety, and stress. In particular, experiencing bird diversity in the afternoon decreased participants’ experience of depression, anxiety, and stress. Additionally, having 20-30% vegetation cover in an area resulted in enough bird diversity to reduce the severity of depression, anxiety, and stress. “Is it the birds or the vegetation cover?” you might ask. The researchers couldn’t say for sure. But a more recent study may shed some light on how to answer that question.

For a study completed in 2020, researchers hid speakers that played a variety of bird songs along sections of a popular hiking trail in Colorado. By using the speakers, researchers could adjust the perceived diversity of bird songs along the trail. Researchers then interviewed hikers about their experience along the trail. Those who experienced a greater diversity of bird songs reported improved well-being. They also reported feeling better about life and about their hiking experience than those who heard fewer bird songs. One of the researchers said they were “kind of flabbergasted” that only 7-10 minutes of exposure to greater bird diversity led to participants experiencing improved well-being. “Flabbergasted. ”  I like that word. Frankly, I’m flabbergasted myself.

What does this mean for your family? It means that taking the opportunity to hear bird songs offers another way to enhance your family’s happiness. Birds! Not Alfred Hitchcock’s birds, but the birds in your own community. Here are a few ideas to gather birds so you can hear their song.

  • Put some bird feeders in your yard. Include a hummingbird feeder and a finch feeder. Plant some flowers that will attract birds. Then sit down with your family and enjoy the show. Count how many different types of birds you see?
  • Take a family trip to an aviary. You’ll see birds from all over the world and get to listen to their songs. And, you can have great family fun nights at the aviary.
  • Go for a family walk or hike through a local park. Enjoy your time together in nature and listen for the birds.
  • You might even purchase a CD of bird songs or download forest sounds filled with bird songs and play it quietly in the background at home. It may not be quite the same as the outdoor experience, but…who knows?

These activities are not for the birds. They are for you and your family. Enjoy the experience and the increased life satisfaction your family will gain as well.

Don’t Catch Depression From This Pandemic

Depression has increased dramatically during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic studies suggested 11% of the population reported enough symptoms to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of depression. In December of 2020, during the pandemic, 42% reported enough symptoms of depression to reach a diagnosis (COVID’s Mental Health Toll). In fact, the World Health Organization noted depression as the leading cause of disability in 2020. This increase in diagnosable symptoms is shocking, but not surprising. In fact, a study published in August of 2020 and drawing information from a database of over 100,000 participants revealed social connection as the strongest protective factor against depression. So, it comes as no surprise that after a year of needing social distancing and “shelter-in-place” protocols that depression has increased. The question is: how can we connect socially while maintaining a level of physical safety? After all, our emotional lives depend on social connection, the frequency of confiding in one another, and the opportunity to visit with family and friends. How can we help our families connect socially? Here are just two ideas.

  • Consider each family member’s interests and look for groups related to those interests. This may include sports, music, scouting, science, or other clubs. Find out how various groups are encouraging involvement during this time. They may meet over zoom. Maybe they have small groups meeting while necessary precautions. You may also participate in your faith community. Once again, they may meet over zoom or in small groups with necessary precautions.
  • Call a friend and talk…or zoom. Although not as personal as face-to-face contact, talking on the phone or zooming is the next best thing to face-to-face contact. So, connect via phone or zoom rather than text. You may also meet a friend at the park for a walk or sit in an outdoor setting to talk. You might even meet a friend or two at a restaurant that has outdoor seating or is maintaining necessary safety precautions. You can also enjoy a picnic or simply watching your children with a friend in the back yard.

These represent only two ideas for maintaining social connection during this time. Doing so takes some effort but will bring a greater sense of peace and happiness to you and your family.

What are your ideas for maintaining social connection during the pandemic? What have you and your family done?

Religion & Your Child’s Mental Health

Perhaps a good New Year’s resolution for your family would include religion. Why? Because raising kids with religion or spirituality may protect their mental health. I’m sure that sounds controversial and naïve to some, but a study published in 2018 suggests it to be true. This study looked at the data of 5,000 people who participated in a long-term study. It looked specifically at children’s religious involvement from pre-teen years into their twenties. Those who attended religious services at least one time a week with their families when they were children and teens were about 18% more likely to report being happier, 30% more likely to do volunteer work, and 33% less likely to use drugs in their 20’s. In addition, those who prayed or meditated every day reported more life satisfaction, exhibited a better ability to process emotions, and were more forgiving than those who never prayed.

Another study, published in 2019, reviewed 32 studies and found that religious training and involvement was associated with less anxiety in general. Religious training and involvement were associated with less anxiety in relation to various diseases and across different cultures and countries as well.

These are just two studies that suggest a positive impact of religious involvement on mental health. Why does religious involvement have this impact? Perhaps the recognition of “something bigger than ourselves” helps reduce stress and anxiety as does the social support inherent in most religious communities. In addition, there is the impact of a Benevolent Higher Power generously caring and providing for us. With all this in mind, could your family enjoy a potential decrease in anxiety? Then a good New Year’s resolution for your family might include involvement in a religious community. Happy New Year.  

Help Flatten the Curve on THIS Crisis

We have a crisis on our hands…and it has been around much longer than the covid-19 pandemic. Perhaps it’s easier to ignore, easier to pretend it doesn’t exist; but it is a crisis, nonetheless. The percentage of teens (12- to 17-years-old) who suffer at the hands of this crisis has increased from 8.7% in 2005 to 13.2% in 2017! Let me put that into perspective. At the time of this writing (4/20/2020), 792,938 people of all ages have been diagnosed with covid-19 in the United States. In 2017 alone, 3.2 million adolescents between 12- and 17-years-old in the United States were diagnosed with depression. And that number only represents adolescents, not adults. (see NIMH Major Depression for more statistics). Suicide, a danger for those suffering with depression, has increased 47% between 2000 and 2017. In fact, 6,200 teens and young adults (between 15- and 24-years-old) died by suicide in 2017. (The Parent Resource Program). We have a crisis. But what can we do to stem this crisis? Here are five suggestions. They may sound simplistic, but they can produce results that will save lives.

  1. Nurture a growth mindset in your children. A growth mindset focuses on effort rather than the end result or product. In other words, it focuses on the effort invested rather than the final grade, the trophy, or the grade point average. It teaches that effort is more important than the final grade. In the long run, this will help to build your child’s success mindset and decrease the potential for depression.
  2. Value failure and setbacks as learning opportunities. They are not the end or something to be embarrassed about. In fact, failure is a kind of success. It allows us to learn, make adjustments, and continue to grow. Do your child a favor and love mistakes. Cultivate an environment that celebrates effort and learns from mistakes. 
  3. Help your children discover and pursue intrinsic goals, things they love. Intrinsic goals are those goals a person pursues by their own choosing and for their own enjoyment. So much of our children’s world is made up of external goals, those goals focused on material rewards and other people’s judgments. Grades, teacher expectation, and coaches’ determinations as well as media appraisals of appearance and popularity make up some of the external goals shaping our children’s lives. Unfortunately, a focus on external goals contributes to depression. Help your children discover their intrinsic goals and motivations. Become a student of their strengths and interests. Present opportunities for them to nurture their interests. Encourage their individuality. (For more benefits of learning about your children read Parents are Students…And Guess Who Their Teacher Is.
  4. Let them play. Free play, play without adult direction and supervision, invites children to control their own play through negotiation and compromise. It encourages problem-solving and competence in the pursuit of personal interests. In other words, play is much more than fun and games. Free play nurtures a growth mindset and intrinsic goals as well as teaching person limits and social skills. (Read Who Needs a Prescription for Play to learn more benefits of play.)
  5. Teach your children healthy screen management. Studies suggest that becoming overinvolved with cell phones and social media platforms can contribute to depression. It sucks up time, potentially limiting opportunities to become physically active…and research suggest that just an hour of physical activity decreases the risk of depression by 10%. It casts a false view of life, increasing the fear of missing out. And, the burden of a smartphone is too great for our children to manage. They do not have the maturity level to manage it independently and effectively. We need to teach them how to use their electronic devices wisely, to be a smart consumer of social media so social media does not consume them.

These five steps can help stem the rising tide of depression in our families and our communities. Will you join these efforts to stem the rise, to flatten the curve, of depression among our children and youth?

A Couch Potato Teen? The Good News, Bad News, & Even Better News

What’s wrong with a couch potato? Researchers in the United Kingdom have answered that question. Well…they didn’t ask that question literally, but they answered it nonetheless. They followed 4,000 children using “wearable devices called accelerometers.” These devices record body movements, sort of like a Fitbit. They analyzed the data collected through these devices when the children were 12, 14, and 16 years old. Ironically, their daily sedentary time increased from 7 hours and 10 minutes to 8 hours and 40 minutes over the span of those years. The knowledge they gained about adolescent activity levels comes with good news and bad news.

First, the bad news. This increase in sedentary time was associated with an increased risk of depression. A decrease in activity level contributed to the risk of depression. Specifically, every hour of increased sedentary time during adolescence was associated with an 8-11% increase in a risk of depression at 18-years-old.

Now the good news. The risk of depression decreased by 10% with every hour of physical activity added to a teen’s day. In other words, adding an hour of physical activity to a teen’s day cut the risk of depression by 10%! Adding two hours of physical activity cut the risk of depression by 20%!

But wait. There’s even better news. Physical activity does not have to involve the gym, sports, or a major workout. These are good, but not the only options. Physical activity in this study simply meant moving around. Even light activity like walking to a friend’s house, running errands, standing while talking to friends (rather than “sitting on the phone”), doing chores around the house, or helping set the table helped to accrue physical activity…and decrease depression! That is great news because there are so many options to help your teen gain more physical activity. Really, anything other than the sedentary sitting or lying down while play video games or watching TV is going to help accrue time of physical activity. So, encourage your teen to walk to a friend’s house, ride their bike to the store, play a game of pick up basketball with friends, do some chores…anything to get them on their feet and moving.

For an added bonus, engage in some physical activities with them—walk the dog together, ride your bikes to a movie, do yardwork together, engage them in cleaning the house with you. Not only will the physical activity help decrease their risk of depression, but the time spent with you will contribute to their long-term health and happiness as well.

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