EDWARDS — Kids and parents deal with change at a faster pace than ever before. And if the anxiety of everyday parenting isn’t enough to fluster even experienced caregivers, try adding in the media attention about soaring rates of emotional and mental instability among kids today.
Scott Shannon, a holistic child psychiatrist based in Ft. Collins, is keen to find the good news amid all the dread in his new book, “Parenting the Whole Child.” He will visit The Bookworm of Edwards on Monday for a presentation and book signing.
“Parents can mold their child to a much greater degree than anyone thought possible just 20 years ago,” Shannon said in the opening chapter. “This provides freedom and possibility, but it also brings an element of responsibility.”
And as it turns out, those elements of responsibility are rooted in what some say is common sense. The quality of a child’s relationships, as well as his nutrition, environment, physical activity and school have a lot to do with emotional well being.
Adaptability is key
Children are pliable and creative, and with proper mental care, they can adjust well to major changes — even trauma — in their lives, according to Shannon. His theory for working effectively with kids is based on two factors controlling youth’s capacity to change: neuroplasticity and epigenetics.
“Neuroplasticity,” Shannon said, “is the ability of the brain to change as needed over time. It responds to demands, grows and adapts through life. Epigenetics is the influence of environmental factors such as diet to direct how our genes work. These factors like diet, sleep, emotions and relationships are more important than what we inherit from our parents in terms of whether we express illness or health.”
So with a balanced approach of a loving family, healthy food, a supportive school environment and plenty of exercise, mental health is suddenly a lot more attainable for kids living in a high-stress world. Of course, that might put Shannon out of a job, but maybe that’s the point.
Getting to health
Shannon said he chose child psychiatry not only because a person’s entire life can be managed with the right care and with nurturing surroundings, but also because psychiatry is still a young and lesser-known science. Ultimately, he hopes to help people realize their full potential.
Using his passion for helping explore this potential, Shannon’s methods vary from many psychiatrists because he believes in a more homeopathic method. However, that approach does not prevent him from using more potent methods like medication when needed.
“Although I use prescription medication at times, I much prefer to employ natural methods such as nutrition, supplements, mind-body skills, acupuncture and a shift in awareness to support the healing process,” he said.
Overcoming the statistics
It is true that young people are suffering from anxiety, depression, ADHD and substance abuse at rates that increase every year. And while Shannon’s book addresses these issues, he urges parents to recognize the signs of mental health problems early. Seek professional help with symptoms of social isolation, explosive temper, lack of cooperation, sad mood or negative outlook, school failure, fearfulness and avoidance or even a preoccupation with TV and video games.
In addition, Shannon has noted that mental complications manifest themselves differently depending on a person’s age, so those characteristics are good hints that help might be needed, but not definitive signs of a mental health disorder. After working with children for more than 30 years, Shannon has observed that children under six-years-old suffer from Anxiety Autism Behavior, while children 7-13 commonly have anxiety, ADHD and depression. Individuals ages 14 to 21 generally fight depression, substance abuse, anxiety and family conflict.
“My professional focus revolves around making a bridge between the best of mainstream psychiatry and non-mainstream treatment modalities,” he said. In Shannon’s view, alternative and complementary modalities have much to offer people in the way of treatment options, especially under difficult circumstances.
Leigh Horton is the journalism intern at The Bookworm of Edwards and a senior at the Colorado School of Mines.
“Parents can mold their child to a much greater degree than anyone thought possible just 20 years ago.”
Holistic child psychiatrist, author