Posts

By Krisi Mattingly, LCSW – August 6, 2019

Sleep deprivation is an epidemic in America today. Poor sleep habits have been linked to problems like depression, anxiety, ADHD, increased risk for heart disease and cancer, memory issues, compromised immune system, and weight gain. 

Students are busier than ever with more expectations and demands of their time, so sleep may not seem too high on their priority list. There is also the added lure of the internet, social media, and electronics like video games or TV.

Getting the recommended amount of sleep, however, is one of the most important things you can do for your mental and physical health.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 9 to 11 hours of sleep for grade schoolers, 8 to 10 hours for teens, and 7 to 9 hours for adults.  If your family has been struggling to get the proper quantity or quality of sleep lately, here are some tips to make sleep a priority in your household.

  • Establish a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Try not to deviate from this too much, even on weekends or days off.
  • Establish a routine. Try to follow the same routine each night before bed. A good one for younger children is the 3 B’s – take a bath, brush teeth and read a book. 
  • Limit screen time before bed. TV and other electronics are stimulating to the brain. The “blue light” can suppress melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Turn off all devices 1 hour before bedtime. A good solution: Set up a family overnight charging area for smartphones and tablets in an area far from the bedroom.  
  • Don’t force yourself to sleep. If you can’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something calming, then return to your bed when you feel tired. Some ideas are reading a book, writing in a journal, drawing, listening to music, or taking a warm bath.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine at least 4 hours before bed. Consuming these substances can hinder your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Avoid napping. If your child likes to come home from school and crash, try to keep them from doing this if possible. If not, limit naps to 30 minutes or less.
  • Only use your bed for sleeping. Using your bed for watching TV, using a smartphone or working will lead your body to associate your bed with these activities. If you reserve your bed solely for sleeping, your body will recognize this and hopefully fall asleep easier.
  • Exercise and eat well. Being active during the day and eating healthy are both vital to better quality sleep. However, you should avoid eating big meals and strenuous exercise 2 hours before bed.
  • Sleep in a comfortable environment. Make sure your bedroom is a comfortable temperature, quiet and dark. Darkness promotes sleep and healthy levels of melatonin.

If you can use as many of these suggestions as possible, you should notice big improvements in your sleep habits. If the whole family follows these guidelines, everyone will be more healthy, productive and agreeable!

By Lisa Cossey, LCSW, February 26, 2019 –

Most of us have heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” Recent research into food and the effects it has on the body and mind now have us saying, “Change your food, change your mood.”

Our brains are made of many neural pathways, transmitters, and chemicals that make up and regulate our thoughts and moods. Serotonin, the ‘feel good neurotransmitter’, makes us feel happy. When serotonin levels drop, it can make us feel sad or depressed.

Serotonin is directly linked with tryptophan, an amino acid found in many foods. Diets consisting of foods with low tryptophan levels lead to depleting serotonin in the brain, which in turn then leads to irritability, aggression, lowered mood, and impaired memory.

Diets including foods with high levels of tryptophan can provide the opposite effect and raise serotonin levels naturally. Turkey is high in tryptophan, so don’t relegate it only to Thanksgiving. Ground turkey can easily be used as a substitute for ground beef in most recipes.

Cottage cheese is also high in tryptophan and could easily be included in daily meals. Skip the chips at lunch and have some cottage cheese instead.

Another way to lower risk for depression, especially in women, is to drink coffee regularly. A National Institute of Health study tracked women over a ten year period (1996-2006) and found that women who drank coffee regularly throughout the week had lower reported depressive episodes than non-coffee drinking women.

How about a sweet treat to go with that coffee? Dark chocolate has been found to increase serotonin levels naturally as well, leading to improved mood. Bananas can also be included on a list of foods that will decrease negative mood-related symptoms.

Other amino acids, such as L-theanine and Omega-3, a fatty acid, as well antioxidants and minerals such as magnesium and zinc can all help reduce anxiety symptoms. Salmon is a great source of Omega-3 and can also alter dopamine and serotonin levels, packing a double advantage to reduce anxiety and improve mood.

Dark leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, contain magnesium. Other foods found to reduce anxiety symptoms include, Oysters, green tea, and blueberries. Flavonoids, an antioxidant found in blueberries, assist in regulating mood, in addition to many other health benefits eating fresh fruit provides.

The foods listed above are not a complete list. If you are considering a major change to your diet, or if you have food allergies or other monitored health issues, please consult a physician and/or nutritionist. Changing what you eat, even small changes, such as eating a banana for a snack or swapping out the iceberg lettuce in a salad with dark, leafy greens, can impact overall health and mood for the better.

By Jenna Whitfield, MSW, January 2, 2019 –

Is your teen getting enough sleep? If not, it could be impacting their life in negative ways. According to webmd.com, lack of sleep is one of the top sources of stress for teens. The recommended amount of sleep in order to function and perform well is 9 to 9.5 hours of sleep.

A whopping 91 percent of teens do not achieve the required hours. Although the majority of teens get less than recommended amounts of sleep, almost 75 percent of parents are unaware that their children are sleep-deprived due to various reasons. The question most likely coming to mind for most parents is, “why is my teen not getting enough sleep?”

The first situation keeping students away from a restful night is a jam-packed schedule. While being involved in extracurricular activities can have many benefits for a teen’s social development and mental well-being, there are also downfalls. If they are constantly moving from activity to activity while trying to juggle school work, family time, and friends, they may have limited time to sleep.

The second factor playing a role in sleep deprivation is having a digital device near their bed. It’s true that we live in a technology-driven world, but your teen’s screen time could be cutting into much-needed sleep time.

I’ve had students share that they even go as far as keeping the sound turned on their phones at night so they can wake up if someone sends them a message. Others have shared that they regularly play video games past midnight.

These behaviors are becoming more and more popular, but oftentimes teens do not realize how their screen time is impacting sleep. Encouraging your teen to limit screen time, especially at night, can help establish healthy routines.

There is much research on how sleep deprivation affects teens. They are in a crucial developmental period and sleep is extremely important to their brain development and well-being.

When a teen does not receive an adequate amount of sleep per night there is a higher probability he/she will experience one or more of the following consequences:

  • Increased risk of injury
  • Inability to self-regulate behaviors
  • Decreased ability to focus in school
  • Increased risk of depression
  • Increased risk of drug or alcohol use
  • Increased risk of obesity

Don’t worry! While there are a number of potential consequences, there are also a number of symptoms to warn the teen and his/her guardian that they may be facing sleep deprivation.

Behaviors to look out for include, but are not limited to:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • More easily displays aggression/ anger
  • Misses more days of school than normal
  • Exhibits laziness
  • Falls asleep in class or while doing homework
  • Sleeps 2 or hours later on weekends
  • Naps for more than 45 minutes regularly

If these symptoms are making you think of a specific teen, it may be the time to talk about the importance of sleep. Convincing a teen to limit their screen time or to take a break from their busy schedules might be challenging, but in the end everyone can benefit!

If you need advice on how to start this conversation at home, reach out to a Youth First Social Worker or a counselor in your child’s school.  Remember, sleep is important for everyone, so make sure to take care of your teen and yourself!

By Youth First, December 24, 2018

Depression: it happens, especially this time of year with the hustle and bustle of the holidays. If you already battle some depression, it’s the most important time of year to learn to take care of yourself.

Depression doesn’t look the same for every person, and it happens for many different reasons. There can be genetic factors like family history or other risks like traumatic experiences, financial strain, relationship problems, or substance abuse. 

Depression is more than just having a bad day or going through ups and downs. We all have setbacks and struggles, but true depression is much more serious and needs to be dealt with before it causes major life struggles.

Most people don’t just snap out of a depression. It is an actual clinical disorder that requires treatment with the help of health professionals, therapeutic interventions and often medication management to get to a healthier place.

Depression can range from mild to moderate to severe, which sometimes includes thoughts of suicide. It’s important to put and keep the proper interventions in place even when symptoms are less intense. I always say it’s just like finishing out an antibiotic even though you’re starting to feel better.

If you think you might struggle with depression, share your concerns with a mental health professional, who will assess the symptoms and recommend a treatment plan.

Here are some other tips for managing depression from mentalhealthamerica.net:

Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others is also a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.

Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones.

Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion, and be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry.

Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.

Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed.

Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Continue to get plenty of sleep and physical activity.

Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do.

Make the call. Anyone dealing with a suicidal crisis or emotional distress can also get help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

By Laura Arrick, LCSW, July 24, 2018 –

 “You will never understand what I am going through.”
 “This is the worst day of my life.”
“I am worthless and wish I was never born.”

If you are the parent of a teenager you may have heard these words on more than one occasion. Your child could be riding the normal emotional and psychological rollercoaster of adolescence, or it could be something more alarming.

 Mental illness affects younger populations at a greater rate than once thought. With increased knowledge and better screening tools, the number of adolescents with serious concerns is growing.

 According to Mental Health America, as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression.

 The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry defines clinical depression as “an illness in which the feelings of depression persist and interfere with a child or adolescent’s ability to function on a daily basis.”

 If left unaddressed, depression can lead to substance abuse, self-harm, suicide, and other destructive behaviors.

 The symptoms of depression can be wide-ranging, but there are some basic warning signs:

  • Persistent sadness or crying
  • Poor performance in school
  • Withdrawal from friends or activities
  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of motivation
  • Increased fatigue
  • Poor self-esteem
  • A change in eating or sleeping habits
  • Substance use
  • Suicidal thoughts

Depressed adolescents may display an increase in irritability, anger, or hostility, extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, or frequent complaints of physical illnesses (headaches, stomachaches, etc.).

These symptoms may come and go on their own with all teenagers, so it can be tough to tell when a teen is in trouble. Think about how long the symptoms have been present, how severe they are, and how differently the teen is acting from his normal self.

If you feel your child may be experiencing clinical depression, get help immediately. Call the local mental health center to get an evaluation or United Way’s 2-1-1 line to get linked to other community counseling options.

If your child’s school is served by a Youth First Social Worker or another counseling professional, they can help connect you, too.

Parents can often feel hopeless and lost when it comes to helping a child who may be depressed.

Here are some tips for talking with teens:

  • Offer support. Try not to ask too many questions. Teens often have no idea why they feel the way they do and have difficulty expressing their feelings in words.
  • Be gentle but persistent. It can be very uncomfortable for kids to open up to their parents about personal matters. They may feel ashamed or afraid of being misunderstood. It is very likely they will shut you out at first, but you shouldn’t give up. Be gentle with your approach, but don’t shut down communication completely.
  • Listen without lecturing. Do your best to resist the urge to criticize or judge. Be attentive and allow your teen to open up. Meet them where they are, not where you want them to be.
  • Validate your teen’s feelings. Don’t try and talk them out of how they feel even if their feelings seem irrational or silly to you. At least acknowledge how they feel so they will keep talking and not shut you out.

Parents who heed the warning signs of depression and seek professional help can help protect children from more serious or even tragic consequences.

During this month a number of community forums will be held in Evansville to help residents discuss suicide prevention and how to best respond to needs. Mayor Lloyd Winnecke announced these forums will be sponsored by Old National Bank and the Southwestern Indiana Suicide Prevention Coalition.

During the 2016 year there were 40 suicides reported in Vanderburgh County. To date in Vanderburgh County in 2017 there have been 11 suicidal deaths.

These untimely deaths leave behind many caring friends and family who long to make sense of the tragedy.  What happened?  What did we miss?  Were there some important signs?  What do we do next?

Youth First is one of many organizations dedicated to preventing suicide in our community.  During 2016-2017, we presented suicide prevention training to more than 800 students in Vanderburgh County in schools where Youth First is represented.  These presentations help students recognize signs and symptoms of suicidal thinking and to get help.  The presentations also promote good coping strategies.

There are a number of protective factors families can address to better understand saving lives:

If you believe your loved one is suffering from depression and possible suicidal ideation- don’t wait.  Seek assistance from a physician and a therapist or psychologist.

Spend time together- isolation and disconnection are key risk factors for suicidal death.  Connections make a huge impact.  If you know someone who is lonely make an effort to reach out.

Prior experience with suicide and prior attempts make a person more vulnerable.  Remove means for self-harm from the home for safety.

Help your loved one connect with meaningful activities and meaningful people.  Doing things to assist others is another protective factor, and we are ripe for community involvement in Evansville!

Use the best combination of healthy habits.  This includes proper nutrition, exercise and getting rest.  These are the foundations for wellness and support us when the stress load is higher.

Pay attention to the stress load of family members and look for ways to de-stress together.  Watching or reading comedy can help in the same way that avoiding dark and haunting material can.

Everyone is unique and there are no “pat” answers; be sure to seek assistance for better understanding for yourself and your loved ones.

If you are interested in learning more, take part in one of the following community forums:

April 10, 2017 – Welborn Conference Room, 412 Mulberry St.
April 11, 2017 – Oaklyn Library
April 17, 2017 – Central Library
April 18, 2017 – Deaconess Gateway Hospital Conference Rooms ABC

All forums will be held from 6-7:30 p.m. and a light snack will be provided.

If you cannot attend one of the forums, but you would like to host one for your group or club, please contact Janie Chappell at Deaconess Cross Pointe and the Southwestern Suicide Prevention Coalition at 812-476-7200 or contact us at Youth First at 812-421-8336.

By Davi Stein-Kiley, Courier & Press, Jan. 31, 2017 –

The domains of influence on our youth are many – school, community, friends, family, peers, and of course individual perspectives, differences and choice.

Perhaps you are already aware that in the 2014 Indiana Youth Survey conducted by the Indiana Prevention Resource Center, Southwestern Indiana students reported the following:

  • 25.8% of 12th graders reported binge drinking within the last month
  • 11.3% of 10th graders reported smoking cigarettes within the last month
  • 5.8% of 12th graders reported using prescription drugs within the last month
  • 21.5% of 8th graders reported feeling sad or hopeless within the last year
  • 15.4% of 8th graders reported considering suicide within the last year
  • 11.4% of 8th graders reported that had planned suicide within the last year

To view complete results go to youthfirstinc.org.

Why are these results so important to track?

Alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs are serious threats to the health, safety, and futures of our youth, families, and communities. Alcohol and other drug use are also the leading causes of crime among youth and major risk factors for teenage suicide and teenage pregnancy.

Study after study shows alcohol and other drug use interferes with school and life success. Students who are regular users are less likely to do well in school and less likely to graduate.

Youth who start using alcohol before the age of 15 are five times more likely to have alcohol dependency problems as adults than someone who begins drinking at the legal age of 21. Studies also show alcohol and other drug abuse is harmful to brain development in teens. The brain is not fully developed until age 24, so preventing, reducing, and delaying drug use is essential in helping our young people reach their full potential.

The Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC) was established in 1987 to help Indiana based alcohol, tobacco and other drug (ATOD) prevention providers enhance services in their respective communities.

A visit to the IPRC website http://www.drugs.indiana.edu/ helps Hoosiers recognize the amount of data that is collected to assist professionals in examining the course of potentially addictive behaviours and how they impact health outcomes in Indiana. There are also survey questions about mental health.

IPRC developed the Youth Survey in 1991, and schools have the opportunity to use the survey to gain greater detail about the lives, beliefs and perceptions of our young people. Participating in the survey provides everyone with working knowledge of risk factors that influence the use of drugs and alcohol as well as mental health concerns.

Among the risk factors measured are the perception of drug availability, community norms/favourable attitudes toward drug use, lack of commitment to school, rebelliousness, peer and problem behaviour, early initiation into problem behaviours, family management and conflict, friends who engage in problem behaviours, and school rewards for prosocial involvement.

According to the U.S. Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (2013) it is important to look for clusters of risk and protective factors that have a cumulative effect on the overall outcomes for a community and for our state.

Youth First has supported looking at the data in Southwestern Indiana to gain perspective on our regional needs for service and intervention.  Participation in the survey by 8th, 10th and 12th graders helps everyone have a better sense of how to help young people secure a healthier future.

Knowing the risk factors is also a way of understanding our weaknesses and building on strengths. We can assess and measure, inform and educate, plan, monitor and evaluate our health risks.

The survey will occur again this spring in area schools. Please encourage your teen to take part, and watch for Youth First’s report of outcomes that will help guide our work in assisting youth and families in our community.