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Resolutions for Your Mental Health

Lose ten pounds. Quit smoking. Exercise more.

It’s New Year’s Resolution time. This year you can take the same old route that focuses exclusively on the physical.

Or throw yourself a curve ball.

And what could be curvier than making 2016 the year of Mental Health resolutions?

Like many Americans, you may have an aversion to discussing your mental health. It’s a topic many prefer to sweep under the rug. To crack a joke about. Or to talk about in whispers.

The topic of mental health has come to dominate our nation’s headlines with reports of rampant gun violence. Yet poor mental health affects the lives and happiness of tens of millions of Americans – even children – without their resorting to a shooting spree.

Many of us, every year, make time for an annual physical exam with our doctors. Yet when’s the last time you had a mental health check-up?

Odds are, many would stand to benefit.

“Mental illness isn’t rare,” said Dr. Erica Clark of the PsychWell Group, a group of independent psychologists who provide community outreach on psychological health and wellness.

The Statistics

Yes, mental health issues are far more common than the common cold.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2013, an estimated 43.8 million adults aged 18 or older in the U.S. had some mental illness causing minor to significant impairment during the previous twelve months. The number represents 18.5 percent of all strangers, friends and family members you encounter daily.

The statistics for kids are even higher. Just over 20 percent of children between the age of 13 and 18 will experience a serious and debilitating mental illness before they turn 18. Nearly half of 13 to 18 year olds (46.3 percent) will experience some mental illness, causing minor to significant impairment, over that same timeframe.

The most common mental health issue is Anxiety Disorder, which affects 18.1 percent of Americans with an average age of onset of 11. Among 13 to 18 year olds, anxiety disorder affects 25.1 percent of the population.

Personality Disorders, which represented by a pattern of beliefs, unstable moods or behavior that can cost individuals jobs, their relationships and their families, affects 9.1 percent of Americans. Meanwhile major depression afflicts 6.7 percent of adults and 10.7 percent of 12 to 18 year olds.

Take a walk through Westchase. Odds are, one out of every three homes has a resident who is struggling with an issue than would likely see significant improvement with professional help.

Yet only 13.4 percent of Americans are treated for mental health issues in a given year. And only 58.7 percent of Americans with a serious mental illness receive treatment.

Why then does so much of it go undiagnosed and untreated?

Part of the problem is a lack of awareness. Another part lies in the fact that many Americans still view mental health far differently than their physical health. While we don’t judge people for getting cancer of having a stroke or even talking about it openly, issues of mental health aren’t acknowledged as openly.

Shaking the Stigma

“While we have made great strides in increasing community awareness of mental health issues in the last several decades, there is still a rather strong stigma associated with mental health problems for many that prevents them from acknowledging their difficulties and seeking mental health care for themselves, their children, their spouses, or even their parents as they age,” observed Dr. Alina Font.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, which conducts surveys on mental health in all 50 U.S. states, most adults with mental health symptoms (78 percent) and without mental health symptoms (89 percent) agreed that treatment can help persons with mental illness lead normal lives. What’s more, the survey found that 57 percent of all adults believed that people are caring and sympathetic to persons with mental illness.

Yet only 25 percent of adults with mental health symptoms believed that people are caring and sympathetic to persons with mental illness.

Consider as well your different reaction to a person who says, “I’m ill,” and a person who says, “I’m mentally ill.”

Because of this unjustified and damaging stigma, many Americans often wait long past the time when their symptoms first appear. Many wait until the problem becomes so debilitating and distracting they can no longer function well in their daily lives.

Common Misconceptions

Many people avoid help for mental health disorders due to popular misconceptions. Some believe doing so will mean they are weak. Some fear judgment. Others have concerns about confidentiality (yet this is protected by law.) Others believe therapists only conduct business the way Hollywood has portrayed them and that merely “talking about their problems” won’t accomplish anything.

“Some clients worry that the therapist will think they are crazy or that the fact they have sought help will mean they are crazy,” stated Dr. Maria Aranda stated. “Both are these are not true.”

Dr. Alina Font added, “I often have people tell me things like, ‘I don’t need a therapist. I have my family and friends to talk to.’ I think people underestimate the value of talking through mental health challenges with an objective ‘outsider’ who is not emotionally connected to them.”

Further, family and friends aren’t trained to know what strategies work.

Success Stories

Those who are struggling with family mental health issues often find new hope – even happiness – by making that brave step toward seeking professional help. As WOW prepared this article, we were approached by two families with successful children dealing with significant anxiety disorders. To help shed light on the experience, one of the teens contributed the reflection, A Diagnosis: The First Step in Healing, which runs with this feature.

Counselors work with adults with debilitating depression or anxiety. They assist abuse survivors and soldiers returning from the battlefield with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. They work with the young and old who struggle with over-dependence on alcohol or drugs. They treat anxiety and help parents who are struggling with children who are balking at discipline, dabbling with illegal drugs or struggling with social or academic demands in school.

Yet they also help with simple things that many adults often shrug off as part of daily life – from marriage conflicts to general feelings of unhappiness. “People tend to view stress as an inevitable part of our daily lives, a part over which we have very little control,” Dr. Erica Clark offered. “However, learning stress management skills and self-care strategies through counseling can significantly reduce the impact stress has on emotional and physical wellbeing.”

“I worked with a family that was overwhelmed because of anxiety,” added Dr. Karan Lamb. “The parents were worried about their teenager and her ability to handle stress.”

In Lamb’s case, the middle schooler was perfectionistic about her schoolwork, projects and even her friendships. “Everyone learned new way to handle their own anxieties, which involved the middle schooler to sleep better, and set healthier boundaries for herself,” said Lamb. “And the parents learned better ways to communicate with their daughter, and not react to the anxiety.”

“A distressed family of an 8-year-old girl with panic attacks after the death of an extended family member came looking for help,” observed Aranda, when asked how therapy helped some of her clients. “She ceased having any attacks after four weeks of cognitive-behavioral therapy.”

Font, whose practice focuses on neuropsychological evaluations, stated, “Some of the children who have benefited most from my services are those with high functioning autism spectrum disorders (also previously known as Asperger’s). Often, they and their parents struggle for many years with a variety of psychological and social difficulties without a clear understanding of the source of their challenges.”

Clarifying the diagnosis, Font added, often opens up a wealth of helpful resources and support for parents.

Aranda also cited 13 year old with the beginnings of an eating disorder. “Left untreated, it could lead to Anorexia, the most lethal of all mental illnesses,” Aranda said, explaining that the girl’s behavior started with normal dieting. “But with the 15 pound weight loss, 700 a day calorie diet and an obsessive fixation with food, calories and exercise, she was on her way to an eating disorder. Her parents did not initially recognize it. Yet within two months, they were able to get the daughter to increase her daily calorie intake and stop the downward spiral.”

So how can you know if seeking professional advice might help?

“Many therapists offer a brief telephone consultation prior to scheduling an initial appointment in order to determine how and if they might be able to help based on the circumstances,” said Clark.

Added Font, “You can also consult the American Psychological Association Web site for information about therapeutic approaches for your particular situation.”

New Year’s Resolutions

We asked our counselors what mental health resolutions they’d recommend residents consider adopting for the New Year. “Reduce your negative self-talk,” recommended Lamb.

“Negative self-talk can increase our self-doubt and lower our confidence,” she added. “This new year take notice of your thoughts. Learn to be an observer of your thoughts by writing them down, and this will help you to catch when you are being internally destructive. Instead of calling yourself names, you can replace it with a more supportive, constructive and encouraging stance.”

Aranda, who works with children, teens and their families, stated, “Strive to discipline with compassion and without yelling. When we yell, we lose sight of our kids’ humanity. No one likes to be yelled at. It makes a person feel diminished.” Aranda added, “When upset, stop to remind yourself that your kids are growing human beings who need and deserve our compassion and speak your mind calmly.”

“Instead of getting bogged down in an unending list of goals, find a meaningful word or phrase to keep in mind that captures the essence of how you want to approach the coming year,” Clark advised. “For example, if you'd like to be more mindful of the choices you make instead of running on auto-pilot, remind yourself to ‘live intentionally.’”

Font responded, “Commit to taking time for quiet reflection each and every day. This could include meditation, deep breathing, prayer, or journaling and can be extremely helpful for examining and sorting through the thoughts and feelings you experience throughout the day. Start small. Just five minutes a day can help you feel more centered as you go about your day.”

Last but certainly not least, all agreed: if something is bothering you or your family and you’re unsure about what to do, consult a mental health professional for answers. What is there to lose?

Picking a Professional

How do you pick a good therapist or counselor? The ones we interviewed had similar advice.

“Ask your pediatrician, and other parents. More than likely a few names will repeat,” said Aranda. “You can also check with the Florida Psychological Association for referrals for psychologists in your area.”

Aranda stated clients can look up license verification through the Florida Department of Health’s Web site. “This can inform you whether the psychologist has an active license and whether there are complaints against them.”

Aranda added that it helps to brush up on the types of professionals out there. “There are many types of counselors: LCSW, LMHC, psychologists. While psychologists have the most training, it is important that the therapist is licensed and that they have training and experience in the area in which you need help. Ask them if they have treated cases like yours before.”

Clark added Psychology Today is a great resource for learning about professionals and their services.

Whatever you do, resolve to take action rather than keep wondering. Few things affect the quality of our relationships, the prevalence of positive emotions, our resilience, our satisfaction with life or the realization of our potential as much as our mental health.

Shouldn’t you resolve to give your peace of mind the attention it deserves in 2016?

Mental Health Red Flags for Adults

Consult a mental health professional if you recognize any of these red flags:

• You experience physical complaints that seem to linger after consulting a primary care physician (e.g., headaches, fatigue, stomach issues).
• You have difficulty settling your mind or your brain never stops.
• You have changes in weight and/or appetite.
• You experience sleep issues (insomnia or hypersomnia) or you experience excessive fatigue or sleepiness or chronic low energy.
• You’re spending an unbalanced amount of time in the digital world with negative impact on friendships, work demands, or self-care.
• You experience feelings of hopelessness.
• You have a lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities or you find you are isolating yourself from social activities and/or withdrawing.
• You engage in risky behavior such as substance abuse or drunk driving.
• You are experiencing increased guilt, shame or self-doubt.
• You feel overwhelmed or burned out the majority of the day/week.
• You are experiencing decreased functioning in work and/or day-to-day activities (falling productivity or inability to work or finish tasks at typical pace).
• You experience increased irritability and decreased patience with others.

Mental Health Red Flags for Children

Child development follows a trajectory for physical, social, emotional, psychological growth, but sometimes parents find it confusing to know when to seek a professional’s help. Mental illness can occur in children. Signs and symptoms, however, can be different than for adults and are frequently missed. Children cannot necessarily express with words what is ailing them, and thus may display distress through behaviors. Seek professional advice if you spot any of the following red flags:

Pre-School Children

• Developmental delays such as not walking between 10-14 months of age, not speaking by age 3, or speaking only with family members.
• An aversion to going places, doing activities or being around people; angry outbursts to avoid a task or refusing to change a routine; excessive clinging to a caregiver.
• Isolation from others, lack of energy or a change in sleeping patterns, a tendency to cry easily or difficulty coping with stress.
• A refusal to follow directions on a repeated basis.
• Yelling, hitting or other out-of-control behavior.

School-Age Children

• Any evidence of learning disorders: difficulty naming colors, recognizing numbers 0-9, or learning the alphabet song by end of preschool; difficulty holding a pencil or crayon, learning or making letters, reciting the alphabet or counting out 10 items by end of kindergarten; difficulty making sound-symbol associations by end of Grade 1.
• Excessive worry about natural disasters, robbers, getting sick or being away from home or a caregiver.
• Feelings of sadness or withdrawal lasting at least two weeks or severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships.
• Difficulty listening and following directions, chronic forgetfulness, problems completing routine daily tasks, struggles with completing two or three-step commands.


• Dropping grades or skipping school.
• Excessive worry about not finishing assignments on time, or over-focus on other’s views about them, fear of making mistakes or trying new activities or difficulty making decisions.
• Avoiding or refusing to participate in usually interesting activities.
• Excessively checking and rechecking their work.
• Excessive self-consciousness or difficulty with letting go of mistakes.
• Sudden changes in mood or interaction with family or friends.
• Any self-harm, such as cutting or burning; a drop in grades; changes in sleep patterns; chronic irritability; or apathy and disengagement from every day activities.
• Changes in typical behavior; an increase in disruptive fighting and argumentativeness.
• Preoccupation with food, weight or body image or changes in eating patterns.
• Increased secretiveness about friends and where they are going; any evidence of drug use.

Prevalence of Common Mental Health Issues

Anxiety Disorder: 18.1 percent (avg. age of onset: 11); 25.1 percent of 13-18 year olds
Mood Disorder: 9.5 percent (avg. age of onset: 30)
Personality Disorder: 9.1 percent
Major Depression: 6.7 percent of adults; 10.7 percent of 12-18 year olds
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: 4.1 percent of adults; 9 percent of 13-18 year olds
Social Phobia: 6.8 percent (avg. age of onset: 13 years)
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: 3.5 percent
Eating Disorders: 2.7 percent of 13-18 year olds
Chronic Low Level Depression: 11.2 percent of 13-18 year olds; 1.5 percent of adults (avg. age of onset: 31)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: 1 percent

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

2016 Fitness and Wellness Guide Summaries

WOW thanks the following physicians and health/fitness businesses for helping to bring you the Fitness and Wellness Special. The listings on these pages represent paid advertisements in conjunction with the Fitness and Wellness Special. Look for their ads in our special section; page references are available in the business directory. Paid advertising is not an endorsement by WOW, Inc. Interested residents should contact the businesses and ask all relevant questions prior to engaging their services.

Advanced Chiropractic & Rehabilitation
(813) 925-1700

Excellence in family chiropractic treatment with on-site massage therapy and physiotherapy. In-network with most insurance companies. Auto accident treatment relief.

CareLink® Medical Alert
(844) 818-2356

Enjoy life without worry with the CareLink® Numera. BayCare HomeCare offers the Numera, a wireless, waterproof medical alert device that gives you peace of mind.

D1 Sports Training
(813) 358-7671

Offering unique training classes like boot camps, strength training, and mobility classes for adults, explosive performance training for advanced athletes, and athletic development classes for younger athletes.

Florida Hospital Carrollwood – Men’s Health Services
(813) 558-MENS

Florida Hospital Carrollwood offers comprehensive services for men to take charge of their health, in an environment dedicated to personalized and confidential care.

Florida Hospital Carrollwood - Weight Loss
(813) 558-0097

The Florida Hospital Carrollwood Bariatric Weight Loss Surgery Program has been designated by the Surgical Review Corporation as a Center of Excellence in Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

Florida Hospital Physician Group
(844) DOC-2DAY

The Tampa Bay area’s premier multi-specialty physician group with over 130 providers operating in 40+ locations representing over 25 medical specialties.

Garcia Weight Loss
(727) 683-6160

Dr. Garcia has been the leader in weight loss in Tampa Bay for over a decade.  See us in Palm Harbor for new patient specials. 

Insane Fit Girls
(813) 475-6241

Insane Fit Girls specializes in women's outdoor group fitness and personal training right here in Westchase. Where fun and fitness meet. Beginners encouraged.

Internal Medicine & Pediatrics of Tampa Bay
(813) 961-2222

Offering acute care and preventative healthcare for all ages.  Our doctors and nurse practitioner are all board certified or eligible.

Kris Alderson-Insanity, PIYO & CIZE Fitness Instructor

Insanity (Cardio), PIYO (Pilates and Yoga mix) and CIZE (Hip Hop Dance)  at the Westchase Recreation Center.

Long Chiropractic & Rehab. Center
(813) 930-6112

Emphasizing health and wellness education, Long Chiropractic’s soothing environment heals the body, mind and spirit. Each patient receives individualized treatment.

Pattie Hus, Independent “Diamond” Beachbody Coach
(813) 361-0600

Dedicated to helping you reach your health and fitness goals with proven home fitness plans and nutrition guidance.  Motivation, support and accountably = success!

Tampa Community Hospital
(855) 245-8330

Tampa Community Hospital is one of the few hospitals in the Tampa Bay area that offers newly remodeled, private rooms. For more information about the hospital, please visit our Web site.

The Oasis at Tampa Community Hospital
(Alcohol & Drug Recovery Center)
(813) 933-3896

Tampa Community Hospital is one of the few hospital-based, medically supervised detox units in the country. We treat addiction as a disease not as a weakness. Please call for more information.

Jazzercise Westchase Fitness Center
(813) 748-3704

Jazzercise is a pulse-pounding, calorie-torching fitness program that gets you results… fast. We offer 35 classes weekly. Check us out at


Varkey Medical
(813) 867-4310

Enjoy excellent physician access and zero wait times at our new adult primary care office. Stop by for a tour and visit for information.

Northwest and West Park YMCAs
(813) 249-8510

Providing the right equipment, programs and people to turn New Year’s resolutions into life resolutions. Be part of a cause where you can reach your goals and make your community stronger.


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