Welcome to Childhood Made Crazy, an interview series that takes a critical look at the current “mental disorders of childhood” model. This series is comprised of interviews with practitioners, parents, and other children’s advocates as well as pieces that investigate fundamental questions in the mental health field.
In this interview, Dr Eric Maisel (EM) chats with Kelly Dorfman (KD) who holds a master’s degree in nutrition/biology, is a licensed nutrition dietitian, and is the author of Cure Your Child With Food: The Hidden Connection Between Nutrition and Childhood Ailments. This interview first appeared on Psychology Today.
Kelly Dorfman, using nutrition therapeutically to improve brain function, energy and mood, works collaboratively with other medical professionals to help people develop creative strategies to address complex ailments and symptoms. She holds a master’s degree in nutrition/biology, is a licensed nutrition dietitian, and is the author of Cure Your Child With Food: The Hidden Connection Between Nutrition and Childhood Ailments.
EM: How would you suggest a parent think about being told that his or her child meets the criteria for a mental disorder or a mental illness diagnosis?
KD: I think I would tell them to take out the saltshaker and take a few deep calming breaths. That is to say, take the information with a grain of salt while taking into consideration.
The number of children being labeled with mental health disorders has skyrocketed. The National Alliance on Mental Health now claims 1 in 5 teenagers have or will have a serious mental illness. The Hastings Center reports the number of children taking mood and behavior-altering medication is increasing and outpacing use in other countries. It is not unusual for me to see a child with different diagnoses from several practitioners adding confusion to the mix.
Some of the surge in the numbers of medicated and labeled children is because of increased mental illness awareness. Arguably this is a good thing. At the same time pharmaceutical companies are marketing directly to consumers educating them about the labels and helpfully providing lists of symptoms to oversell medicines with serious side effects.
Normal mentally healthy children can go through a difficult period, lack coping skills or have challenging personality traits. As a result they can exhibit symptoms that are part of the diagnostic criteria for mental disorders. If a child has a particularly bad day when he/she is being tested or seen by a specialist, the resulting diagnoses can be devastating. I have seen this many, many times.
The labels themselves whether right or wrong can be damaging if we start seeing a child as the diagnosis. Telling parents their six-year-old meets the criteria for bipolar disorder can permanently change the way the parent relates to the child and what they project for his/her future. Be particularly careful if one of the parents has a mental health diagnosis. This may increase your child’s chance of having the disorder or make you see certain behaviors in the light of that diagnosis but in a vast majority of cases there is still a higher probability that the child will NOT have the disorder.
Take the information under consideration, get a second opinion and try strategies with minimum side effects first, if the situation is not dire.
KD: There is chemistry to mood and thinking. Many parents overlook the importance of diet in mental health. A recent study found, for example, that children who are picky eaters are more likely to have depression and anxiety symptoms.
Robust research over decades points to inflammation as a factor in depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Therapy with specific forms of long-chain fatty acids has shown promise as a safe and effective treatment for these disorders.
Your body is not the government and cannot operate in a deficit state. There is no place to borrow from if you are not eating what you need in order to think clearly. Diet and targeted nutrition therapy may help.
EM: What would you like to say to a parent whose child is in difficulty and who would like to put her trust in the current mental health system?
KD: Unfortunately, I think evidence strongly suggests the current mental health system has major issues and is not trustworthy. You are your child’s strongest advocate and he/she needs you to fight for him/her.
If you abdicate this role there is a good chance your child will be traumatized by a complicated, convoluted system that is trying to treat thorny problems we do not fully understand. At the least they will be overmedicated and labeled in ways that can permanently and negatively affect their lives. They need you to filter and sort the medical information and tell them what is age and temperamentally appropriate.
There is a lot of trial and terror when it comes to treating mental illness. You need to help your children monitor side effects and effectiveness of treatments and insist on changes when appropriate. The system is not geared towards listening to children: Especially children who have been labeled as mentally ill and therefore not reliable reporters.
EM: You’ve written Cure Your Child With Food. What might parents get from that book that might help them?
There are a lot of ideas in my book, Cure Your Child With Food (Workman 2013) about how to address mental health issues using targeted nutrition therapy.
The chapter, The Bipolar Child Who Wasn’t, for example, talks about an eleven-year-old girl who had several mental health diagnoses and had tried several medications without success. She was about to be put into a school for emotionally disturbed children when the family decided to implement a therapeutic diet with great success.
The chapter, Angry and Hungry Siblings, explores another case of a nine-year-old in long-term therapy for anger management problems. Still another delves into the Harvard studies that used specific fish oils to treat depression and anxiety.
To learn more about this series of interviews please visit http://ericmaisel.com/interview-series/
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.