Annual Mental Health Exam

by Swiyyah Nadirah Muhammad

priority-mental-healthI’ve been saying for 10 years, there should be an annual mental health exam done on all children starting at the age of eight.  We all get physical exams yearly but because of the stigma on mental health we do not get mental exams.  I studied Psychology at the University of South FL and I believe in what one of my professors taught.  Many children experience neurotic disorders at a young age including anxiety and depression.  If these disorders go without treatment they can form into psychotic disorders.  When I was eight I experienced anxiety brought on by being molested by my brother.  I did not tell anyone about my illness.  I do believe if I would of seeked counseling at age eight my disorder would have never become psychotic.  Now I have paranoid schizophrenia.  I experienced warning signs of mental illness but at the time I was not educated to know they were warning signs.  The warning signs of schizophrenia are not caring to make friends, having slurred speech, and having a family history of mental illness.  I would advice all adults to talk to their children early about mental illness.  Ask questions. Encourage them to share their experience with mental illness.  If you’re an adult who had experienced mental illness at a young age, talk to your children about it. Ask them if they are experiencing any signs of mental illness.  The only way to end this stigma is for everyone to start sharing their stories, especially the celebrities because we look up to them.  The fear many have is that if they share their experience with mental illness they will lose their fan base, when actually they will grow more fans because people will be able to relate to them.  Forty nine percent of Americans will experience a mental illness at least once in their life.  The most common is depression and anxiety.

About the author: Swiyyah Nadirah Muhammad is an author and motivational speaker.  Her book is called Don’t Call Me Crazy! I’m Just in Love and it is required reading at SPC College and several high schools.  To book Swiyyah for your next event or for radio and television interviews, contact her at 727-776-0291.

Could Your Child Be a Cyberbully? Warning Signs and Prevention Tactics

“No, my child would never do that.” Would this be your response if your child were accused of being a cyberbully? If so, you’re not alone. For one thing, no parent wants to believe that his or her child is capable of teasing or harassing other youngsters. For another, cyberbullying is, by its very nature, a relatively easy behavior for youngsters to keep under wraps: With the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger, the evidence disappears. And most concerning of all, it’s easy for kids to get caught up in this destructive behavior without initially realizing how dangerous and hurtful it is.

“Like it or not, the rapidly expanding digital landscape has allowed bullying to spread beyond playgrounds and school hallways to computer screens, smartphones, and more,” says Amy Lupold Bair, author of Raising Digital Families For Dummies® . “Since this is a pressing issue that can affect any family, it’s crucial for parents to be able to recognize the signs that their children may be cyberbullies, and to know how to handle and prevent this behavior.”

Specifically, Lupold Bair says, tweens and teens (and in some instances, even younger kids) who are engaged in cyberbullying often exhibit behavior changes, just as victims do. Watch for the following signs:

• Your child may stop using the computer when you come into the room or quickly change screens or tabs.

• Your child may sharply increase time spent on the computer or on a smartphone.

• Your child may appear stressed or secretive when using these devices, and may become anxious, upset, or excessively angry when you limit or take away access.

• Your child may be spending more time with a new group of friends, or might no longer interact publicly with a long-time friend.

“Regardless of whether your child’s behavior fits into any of these categories, it’s a good idea to proactively bring up the topic of cyberbullying,” Lupold Bair says. “Make sure your kids know what cyberbullying is, why it’s harmful, and what your expectations are for their online conduct. By keeping an ongoing dialog going, you’ll not only gain insight into the digital world in which your kids live, but you may also discover warning signs that your child’s online group is participating in these types of activities.”

Specifically, Lupold Bair recommends discussing the following topics with your children:

• Joking vs. harassment. The line between harmless joking and mean, harassing behaviors can often be a fine one, and younger children especially may have trouble recognizing when they’ve crossed it. Explain to your kids that any online behavior that makes another person feel upset, threatened, hurt, mocked, etc. can be considered bullying. If your child knows that one of his peers is uncomfortable with a specific online interaction—or if a particular online behavior would make your child feel upset if the shoe were on the other foot—it’s best not to participate.

• Appropriate online communication. While it may seem obvious to many adults, kids frequently don’t understand that what they write or share in a digital format can often be forwarded, saved, or accessed by others. On a continuous basis, talk to your kids about what is appropriate to share online and what is not. Put a special emphasis on why it’s important to keep friends’ secrets and personal communications private and where it is and isn’t safe to discuss these things.

• Standing up to bullies. Teach your children how to stand up to their friends to discourage bullying behaviors online, if they’re comfortable doing so. Make sure they understand the importance of not standing by while others are being bullied and help them find the words to tell their friends that they refuse to participate in these bullying actions.

• Limiting contact with bullies. Cyberbullying is often a group occurrence with more than one child playing a role and different participants contributing varying levels of bullying behaviors. Make sure your children know that they can often use blocking features on social media and chat sites to avoid online contact with bullies. Explain why being associated with a cyberbullying incident can have serious consequences, even if your child wasn’t the ringleader or even an active participant.

• Informing adults. Encourage your kids to talk to teachers, coaches, and friends’ parents if they don’t feel comfortable coming to you with concerns about their own online behavior, which may have potentially crossed the line into cyberbullying. Also, encourage them to inform authority figures if they know another child is the victim of cyberbullying. Tell your kids that if they’re uncomfortable coming forward because they don’t want to attract the bully’s attention themselves, an anonymous note left on a coach’s or teacher’s desk, for example, can still be a tremendous help.

“Don’t just assume that your child’s online activities are harmless, even if she’s generally a ‘good kid,’” Lupold Bair concludes. “Be proactive about discussing why cyberbullying is a major issue and how you expect your child to behave on all digital platforms.

“In fact, I recommend creating and having your kids sign a document called a Digital Family Policy,” she adds. “It should include rules and expectations for all technology use. Be sure to include information regarding how you define cyberbullying and what the consequences will be if your child crosses that line.”

Defining Cyberbullying: A Parent’s Guide

From Raising Digital Families For Dummies®
by Amy Lupold Bair

teen-phoneWhen most of today’s parents were growing up, bullying was largely limited to in-person interactions. For that reason, it can be difficult to intuitively and fully understand what our children are facing as they navigate the digital landscape.

In essence, cyberbullying comprises any digital communication, typically from one minor to another minor, with the purpose of frightening, threatening, embarrassing, or harassing a person. The most common form of cyberbullying is sharing a private text message, e-mail, or instant message (IM) with someone else or through a public posting. Cyberbullies’ tools are computers and smartphones and they plague victims via text, e-mail, IM, chat rooms, social media, and blogs.

Examples of cyberbullying behaviors include:

• Using websites to rank or rate peers according to criteria such as looks and popularity

• Publicly blocking someone’s participation in an online group

• Tricking someone into sharing embarrassing information with the purpose of sharing it digitally with others

• Creating a website with the purpose of harassing someone

• Creating a fake social media account to pose as another person and post untrue things about that person

• Sending threatening or mean e-mails, text messages, and IMs in chat rooms

• Posting embarrassing pictures of someone on a social media website

The effects of cyberbullying can be far more devastating for victims than traditional bullying because:

• Cyberbullies often remain anonymous, making victims unsure of how to protect themselves and whom to trust

• Victims often receive bullying messages via their home computer, taking away their feeling of safety within their own home

• Victims may be affected both at school and online, taking away two primary locations where teens socialize and interact

• Cyberbullies can reach a large number of people easily and instantly, making it possible for the entire world to see the behaviors and shared information about the victim

• Because cyberbullies don’t face their victims, the bullying behaviors are often more extreme than traditional bullying

• Cyberbullies can attack their victims frequently on multiple technology platforms

Many states have laws regarding cyberbullying, but current laws vary by state. To see where your state stands regarding cyberbullying legislation, visit

Warning Signs of Anorexia

By Dr. Ismael Nuño

thin girlMy daughter, Catharine, began her battle with Anorexia Nervosa with a classic presentation at the age of fourteen. Prior to that she was involved in gymnastics in a highly competitive circle in Germany. All the little girls wanted to be number one and they all wanted to compete in the Olympics. When Catharine began high school in America, she and her classmates would get together at lunch and talk about how they all looked fat and they were on a diet and they would compete to see who could lose the most weight. They all got A grades. At home, her mother was a strict middle school teacher and her father (me) was a heart surgeon. She had a younger, loving brother who was caught in the middle of a fight between anguished parents and a daughter who refused to gain weight.

Then, I was suddenly sent to the Middle East to fight Saddam Hussein. TV news hysteria kept announcing that 10,000 US soldiers would die in the first few hours of battle. My daughter Catharine kept watching this horror on TV. I was informed by the American Red Cross one evening during the Gulf War that if I wanted to see my daughter alive, that I should return to the US immediately.  She was very ill. Within an hour I was flying back to Washington, DC. After being in a metabolic unit in Washington, and receiving psychotherapy as an inpatient she then received it as an outpatient. When we moved to Los Angeles she went to UCLA and was achieving top grades. She began to eat normal meals and developed a wide span of friends. One hot and humid afternoon while planting flowers, Catharine fainted momentarily. She told me about it but I thought she was just dehydrated. It happened again at school but when she was taken to the emergency room of the UCLA Medical Center her EKG was normal. One morning, I found her in her bathroom on the floor. She had no pulse and she was not breathing. I gave her CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation), I called the paramedics but Catharine could not be brought back. Her ashes were scattered over the Pacific Ocean.

Young girls with eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa (restrictive caloric intake) or Bulimia (binge/purge) usually have stressful family situations, highly competitive environments, and a genetic pre-disposition for substance abuse or physical or mental disorders. The clinical onset is commonly very insidious. These young girls begin to lose weight, change eating habits and restrict caloric intake. They have a morbid fear of gaining weight. They are very careful in their meal preparation and sometimes even wear gloves so as to not contaminate their food with calories. They prepare non-fat meals, cut up their meal into very small pieces and in my daughter’s case, she would discuss her day with us at the dinner table while moving her food around her plate. Sometimes, they develop moodiness, are withdrawn and act shy. Catherine, like many, had an intense physical activity regiment and would run in the mornings or go up and down the stairs repeatedly after meals. The first warning sign is a change in eating habit, weight loss, dizziness, fainting and fatigue. They go to the bathroom often and always after meals. The way they manage their food at mealtime is a big indicator that something is wrong.

Physical changes are also evident. These patients develop dry skin. They become dehydrated, constipated, and develop abdominal pain or a bloated stomach. They become emaciated, fatigued, develop lanugo (small friable hair), and sometimes even stress fractures. As parents, we just think that they are stressed out because of school and that an increased fluid load and a good meal will resolve their problem.

One of the most threatening and possibly fatal complications of an eating disorder can be a heart rhythm abnormality or delay in the transmittal of electricity, which is why many people suffering from eating disorders have a tendency to faint. The EKG is static and will not show any immediate changes but a Holter Monitor exam must be done to record the electrical activity of the heart over a period of time. Now, these tests have gone from 24 hours to two weeks. If there is a delay in electrical transmission in the heart it will be found. The treatment for that is the insertion of a pacemaker. There is a 3-5% mortality rate in these young girls. Most of it is by cardiovascular abnormalities and sudden ventricular arrhythmias, or sudden cardiac death, and some of it is by suicide. One could argue that a prolonged restriction of calories, emaciation and the resulting complications are a form of suicide.

The best success in controlling an eating disorder is to catch it as soon as possible. Try to become engaged as a family. Seek medical attention from the pediatrician, a metabolic expert and a psychotherapist. Control of these disorders can take years and a lot of love and a lot of patience. What used to be an occasional sick child with an eating disorder is now an epidemic. Many, if not most, of the pediatric units have metabolic teams that will help your daughter on her difficult journey to become well.

Dr. Ismael Nuño is the author of the book The Spirit of the Heart: Stories of Family, Hope, Loss, and Healing. He received his training in Cardiothoracic Surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He was Chief of Cardiac Surgery and Chief of Staff Elect/President Elect of the Medical Association at the Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center, as well as Assistant Professor of Clinical Cardiothoracic Surgery at the Keck School of Medicine. He is currently Medical Advisor for the Alfred Mann Institute of Bioengineering at USC, and was previously Medical Advisor for the St. Jude Medical Corporation for the Western United States.

Warning Signs a Teen is Abusing Alcohol

According to Dr. Rick Meeves, Director of Adolescent Clinical Services at CRC Health Group, a teen may 1) not be interested in alcohol at all, 2) be curious about it, 3) try it, or 4) start drinking. Most teenagers experiment with alcohol but the relationship isn’t predictable and may go in any number of directions.  If there are parental concerns about a teen abusing alcohol, the first steps often start with the knowledge that a problem exists.  Dr. Meeves offers the following warning signs a teen is abusing alcohol.

Warning signs a teen is abusing alcohol:

Sudden change in attitude

  • Issues at school, or drop in academic performance
  • Truancy
  • Withdrawal, isolation or depression
  • New friends
  • Lack of interest in anything besides hanging out with friends
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or sports
  • Increased secrecy about possessions, activities or whereabouts
  • Aggressive, rebellious behavior
  • Change in sleeping and or eating habits
  • Deteriorating family relationships
  • New or increased use of mouthwash or mints to mask alcohol smell
  • Evidence of alcohol – empty bottles, etc.
  • Cash flow problems
  • Alcohol or money goes missing from your home

Obviously, not all of these signs point specifically to an abuse of alcohol, but these signs often give a strong suspicion that a teen is drinking inappropriately and parents should err on the side of caution and take it seriously.

Talk openly with your teen about your concerns, and ask for help from a pediatrician, psychologist or psychiatrist if you need to. Get a professional assessment to find out what is going on; screening for drugs or alcohol may be in order.

Put an emphasis on safety and weigh the following information carefully:

  • Teens who abuse alcohol are more likely to have unsafe sex than those who do not drink
  • Teens who drink heavily are three times more likely to try and hurt themselves (self-harm, suicide, etc.) than those who don’t drink
  • Alcohol is a gateway drug – those who abuse it are more likely to go on to abuse other drugs

Keep a close eye on a teen’s behavior and his or her relationship with alcohol.

For more information regarding teens and substance abuse, go to:

Self-Esteem Is More Than Body Image

Self-Esteem Is More Than Body Image

self-esteem, teen depressionTeenage problems can be much bigger issues than we as parents might think. In fact struggling teens can display many different signs of low self esteem that we simply overlook because we don’t recognize them. With this in mind, it’s important to understand some simple signs to look for in your teenagers when it comes to depression, low self esteem and an overall unhappy persona.


When your struggling teen tends to get jumpy and defensive during regular conversations, they may be feeling like they need to defend themselves due to a lack of self esteem and confidence. Asking your teen for their opinions and making a point to respect their views when talking to them can help with this issue.


Most teenagers display some signs of irritability and rebellion while growing up but then the mood swings become intolerable or start showing up more often than not, it’s time to take a step back and determine why this could be happening.

Less of a Social Life

Teenage problems that include the loss of friends or an abundant social life this can greatly affect their self esteem. If you child doesn’t talk on the phone as much as they used to or hang out with friends as much on the weekends anymore, there is nothing wrong with digging a little deeper to determine what the problems might be here.

Locking Themselves in a Room

If your teenager doesn’t spend time outside of their room and refuses to include themselves in family functions, there is a good chance that they are dealing with confidence and self esteem issues that need to be addressed.

How to Help Struggling Teens

There are a number of ways that you can incorporate some help for the teenage problems your child might be dealing with. The first step is to simply talk to them about it. You might be surprised at how much you learn from a conversation about this. It’s important not to push them or to be judgmental because this can push your child further away. Instead just leave a door wide open and let them walk through in their own pace.

Getting professional help for teenage problems is a great way to handle the struggles that your teen might be dealing with. You can implement family counseling or simply find someone for your teen to talk to alone. This allows them to feel comfortable talking to someone who isn’t biased about their situation and who they can trust not to judge them or become disappointed in them due to their feelings.

Giving your struggling teen an opportunity to choose how they want to handle their problems can also work well. Of course, if they don’t want to do anything about it then you should do what you think is best as a parent. If this means forcing them to attend at least a couple of meetings with a counselor, so be it. Don’t let self esteem become a major factor in the way your child spends their teenage lives.

To Swaddle? How Long?

To Swaddle? How Long?Should You Swaddle Baby or Not and For How Long?

Most parents wonder how long they should swaddle their baby, if at all. The question of whether or not to do it at all is an obvious yes! Swaddling has been around since babies have been (FOREVER) and for good reason. Some people look at swaddling through their adult eyes, not the baby’s, calling it a “straight jacket” and assuming it is too binding and uncomfortable, an unnecessary restriction of movement. The truth, however, is that babies love to be swaddled and it is best to swaddle from the day they are born until they tell you they are done with it. (For videos on how to swaddle, click here.)

Safety First

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a study in May 2005 suggesting that swaddling may reduce the chances of SIDS and that babies who are swaddled have fewer night wakings and fall back to sleep more quickly. They also suggested that swaddled babies are more responsive to outside stimuli (which means they may wake up more easily if something is wrong).

Womb To World Is a Shock

When babies are first born they are in total shock. All the comforts of a tight, dark, warm womb with the constant loud swish of mom’s heartbeat have been replaced with bright light, new sights and sounds and no more security of being snug all the time. While most of the elements of the womb are hard to replace for your baby, a tight swaddle is an easy way to give them the cozy, cradled, secure feel they miss.

The Startle Reflex

Newborns are born with the Startle Reflex, also called Moro Reflex. The Startle/Moro Reflex is when a baby will startle and spread out her arms and legs (actually a fear of falling) and possibly cry. While this reflex demonstrates proper motor development in babies up to five months, it can cause sleep disturbances or problems falling asleep.  When babies are tightly swaddled, the Startle Reflex is contained and does not interfere with sleep.

Involuntary Movement

Babies under the age of three months have no control over their arms or legs and when tired, their arms and legs wave and jerk. Babies don’t realize that their limbs are attached to their body, so when flailing arms hit them in the face, they think they are part of the environment, an outside stimulus that is disturbing them. By swaddling, you contain their involuntary movements and remove stimulation that keeps them awake.

Swaddling Is a Great Step In the Bedtime Routine

Starting from the day they are born, you can use swaddling as part of your wind-down/bedtime routine, both for naps and night. Being put in a swaddle is a consistent and recognizable sign for baby to know that sleep is coming. Many babies are ready to calm down and fall asleep as soon as they are snugged up in a swaddle.

How Long to Swaddle

The question of how long to swaddle baby is not as black and white and whether or not to swaddle at all. Almost every resource you look at will tell you a different time as well. Some will tell you as little as one month is long enough and others may suggest swaddling for up to seven or eight months. The important thing to look for are real signs from your baby that she is ready to stop being swaddled. These signs might not be as easy to recognize, either.

Getting Out of  Swaddle Doesn’t Mean She’s Ready to be Done With It

As a baby gets older he is going to get more mobile and be able to move around. And this movement will cause the swaddle to come undone. This is not an indication that your baby does not need to be swaddled anymore, though. Some babies will wake as a result of becoming unswaddled and can only fall back to sleep (and stay asleep) when reswaddled. Another cause of the swaddle coming undone is that babies get bigger and it is harder to make small blankets stay tight around a larger baby. The swaddle wraps with velcro are a fabulous way to keep a swaddle in place on babies as they get bigger.


Around three months is a great age to experiment and try unswaddling your baby. This is the average age for babies to find their fingers, which can be very helpful for being able to self-soothe. Some babies, however, might not find their fingers until 5 months, or even later. Leave one of your baby’s arms out of the swaddle (so you can still incorporate it into your wind-down routine for now) and see how he does. Give it a few days, as the first sleep like this will likely be disturbed. If your baby does ok with it after a few days, is able to fall asleep and stay asleep, he is probably ready to get rid of the swaddle. If he is having a hard time falling asleep and wakes often, it is an indication that the swaddle is still needed. Go back to it and experiment again in another month or two. Don’t feel bad about sticking with a swaddle for a while, regardless of what others tell you. I got rid of the swaddle at six months and I hear a lot of success with using it until five months old. Do what your baby needs and feel good about that!

Recommended Reading

To read more about swaddling, we recommend Tracy Hogg’s books, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer and The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems