Episode 36 - Mental Health, Self-care & Back-to-School w/ Dave Anderson, PhD
Dave Anderson, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and the Vice President of School and Community Programs at the Child Mind Institute. Dr. Anderson was formerly the Senior Director of the Child Mind Institute’s ADHD and Behavior Disorders Center, and he specializes in evaluating and treating children and adolescents with ADHD, behavior, anxiety, and mood disorders. Child Mind Institute school-based programs directed by Dr. Anderson have provided clinical interventions, mental health skill building, and workshops for more than 64,000 students, educators, and parents in over 1,000 schools in New York and California. Dr. Anderson frequently lectures and leads workshops for parents, educators, and policymakers, and he has contributed to media for organizations such as ABC, CBS, Fox, CNN, NBC, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the New York Times, and NPR. Dr. Anderson received his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and his doctorate in clinical psychology from Columbia University.
[00:00:00] Danielle Scorrano: Hello READers across the world. My guest and I are both coming to you live from New York City. It's actually really hot out. I was walking across Central Park and you don't need to know that because you're listening to this as the school year has started. Many of you are embarking in this new school year. Some of you are just getting ready. And to be honest with you, I feel like summer has just started. And maybe it's because I feel this neverending dread or wheel of overwhelm lately. If you resonate with this, then we are in for a timely and special episode with my guest, Dr. Dave Anderson, Dr. Anderson, welcome to the READ Podcast.
[00:00:37] Dr. Dave Anderson: Thanks so much for having me. I'm with you on the fact that summer has only started this week.
[00:00:41] Danielle Scorrano: Seriously. Like I'm like, did I go on vacation? I don't know what's even happening.
[00:00:45] Dr. Dave Anderson: Right.
[00:00:45] Danielle Scorrano: I do know I can only measure summer by the temperature because we just had a very, let's just say, humid summer in New York.
[00:00:53] Dr. Dave Anderson: I just feel like I just finished at least like a few items from my school year to-do list. So now I feel like I can really enjoy [00:01:00] summer and it's already August.
[00:01:01] Danielle Scorrano: I know. And practically it'll be winter when that to-do list will just continue to add. I'm glad that you resonate with the feeling of overwhelm and dread, it sounds like. So this might be a therapy session for both of us.
[00:01:12] Dr. Dave Anderson: I was going say so much of this is letting go of the do list and realizing I can just prioritize a few things and let the rest go.
[00:01:18] Danielle Scorrano: Already giving insights, I love that. I have to write that down in my notebook. You've already provided insights for us. I want to thank you for being such an integral part of the Windward community for our families and for educators truly everywhere. I mean, I remember I don't know, maybe about eight years ago sitting in our room at the Teacher Training Institute at The Windward School, listening to you talk about positive behavior management, and going into my classroom the next day and just being so excited about what I learned. And so in addition to teaching us as Windward faculty, you've been such an important part of The Windward Institute's faculty. So I have to speak for the entire Windward community, and just thank you for [00:02:00] all you've done for us.
[00:02:01] Dr. Dave Anderson: I mean, I think it's been really wonderful every time I've gotten to engage with the Windward community, not to mention that, you know, in the early years there was so much that was mutual about that. I mean, even our first summer program that we ran through my clinical center, the Child Mind Institute, Windward was the host for the first year. And even after I think you just opened the Upper East Side site. So there's been lots of great overlap with Windward over the years.
[00:02:23] Danielle Scorrano: Absolutely. Well, we're so thankful that you're a neighbor, and before we get started, so many of our listeners know about you and have learned from your work. And I want to introduce you formally to our READ Podcast community. So as you're listening to Dr. Dave Anderson, he is a clinical psychologist and the Vice President of School and Community Programs at the Child Mind Institute. Dr. Anderson was formerly the Senior Director of the Child Mind Institute and Behavior Disorder Center. And he specializes in evaluating and treating children and adolescents with ADHD, behavior, anxiety, and mood disorders. Child Mind Institute's school based programs are [00:03:00] directed by Dr. Anderson and have provided clinical interventions, mental health skill building, and workshops for more than 64,000 students educators and over 1000 schools in New York and California. Have we cloned you? Like how did you reach 64,000 students?
[00:03:15] Dr. Dave Anderson: I mean, it definitely, wasn't just me. It's been a team effort with our school and community programs team. I just get the great privilege of being able to talk about it a lot.
[00:03:23] Danielle Scorrano: Right.
[00:03:23] Dr. Dave Anderson: That's it.
[00:03:24] Danielle Scorrano: My gosh, that is such a, just speaks to the impact that you and your team have had. So Dr. Anderson has frequently lectured and led workshops for parents, educators and policy makers. And he's contributed to media for organizations such as ABC, CBS Fox, CNN, NBC, The Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the New York Times, and NPR. Dr. Anderson received his bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College and his doctorate in clinical psychology from Columbia University.
Okay. So let's start with Child Mind. You are the Vice President of School and Community Programs at CMI. What is your current area of expertise and how [00:04:00] can you share a little bit more about the focus of your work?
[00:04:02] Dr. Dave Anderson: Sure. So, I spend a small portion of my time still treating patients directly and working with kids, teams and families. But the lions share of my work is really leading the team that we have that is providing direct services in high need schools in the New York city DOE and then across a few high needs school districts in the San Francisco Bay Area.
And then from those direct services, we provide treatment to kids from elementary to high school for post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, behavioral issues, ADHD, and early reading challenges. And then we also provide a mental health skill building curriculum as a layer of prevention to thousands of kids a year that we know leads to great growth and coping skills for students who get this intervention. Then we also do a lot of educator and caregiver workshops on a variety of topics focused in building awareness and breaking down stigma. And the real focus of that work is not only on serving school and community partners in our backyard, but it's also on packaging [00:05:00] interventions that have an evidence base and have now been kind of field tested and have gone through rigorous feedback processes, particularly with a lot of the communities of color that we serve in New York and California and where we can say, okay, now we have something that we can package that we know is and also has been developed in partnership with diverse populations and we can bring it to school districts across the country via professional training.
[00:05:23] Danielle Scorrano: Hmm. When you talk about direct services. Are you looking mainly at mental health? Are you focusing on kids with learning disabilities, such as ADHD, dyslexia, reading challenges? Are you talking about stress, anxiety, or is it just all of it depending on the needs of the school?
[00:05:40] Dr. Dave Anderson: It's yes, to all. I mean, the thing is school and community programs grew out of our clinical centers in thinking about how we could take the evidence based practices there at work, in our practice, and bring them to school and community settings where kids already are, because we knew that for some families, it's a reality that they can come in once a week, say on Thursday afternoon for treatment, [00:06:00] but for other family, they can't take necessarily that time or parents can't take off work or they don't have that kind of bandwidth. So the focus was on figuring out a way to both fund part of the cost for those services and deliver them in high need settings where kids already were. So we end up treating almost everything we would treat in our practice, or in school settings, depending on what a kid might be presenting with. So that can range from early reading issues to symptoms of ADHD, to depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress.
[00:06:29] Danielle Scorrano: Interesting. And do you send your team out to each of these schools or are you training people in house to provide these types of supports?
[00:06:37] Dr. Dave Anderson: So in New York and San Francisco, we're sending clinicians into the field four days a week, to schools. And then, our professional training team takes the knowledge that we gain from delivering those services in the community and tries to package it and bring it to merely capacity-building. I wouldn't say merely, but sustainably and effectively capacity building with districts where we can't have the same direct [00:07:00] service partnerships outside of our home states of New York and California.
[00:07:04] Danielle Scorrano: Right. Interesting. Sorry. I had to ask more questions related to that because in my doctorate program that I'm finishing, a lot of it is on how you scale evidence based interventions. And so, as you're talking, I'm connecting so much to the literature and all the work I'm doing that. Sometimes I find myself going a little off track during our interview.
[00:07:21] Dr. Dave Anderson: I like a little nerd dive into the work and being able to talk about what we're trying to scale, but yes, understood. We can come back. Yeah.
[00:07:28] Danielle Scorrano: We can come back to multiple episodes, I think.
[00:07:30] Dr. Dave Anderson: Yes.
[00:07:30] Danielle Scorrano: So I wanna circle back to you and your career. So I always like to hear more about my guest's story. What's your background and how did this work and your interests lead you into what you're doing?
[00:07:42] Dr. Dave Anderson: I mean to start at the beginning, I was raised by a psychologist and a psychiatrist, so my mother's psychologist, my dad's a psychiatrist.
[00:07:50] Danielle Scorrano: All in the family.
[00:07:51] Dr. Dave Anderson: Right. Mental health is kind of the family business. And I've even, I've told people many times, at my wife and my wedding, we had a picture of family and friends, [00:08:00] involved in the mental health profession, and over 40 of the 150 attendees of our wedding were in the mental health profession in some form or fashion, either research or practice. So, you know, it's to us, a family business, a calling, and as you might see from things like this podcast or, as you were summarizing my bio, I like talking. I mean, I think it was this sense as a young man that like there might be a career where I could talk with people and where I could really solve complex problems and help people to be able to engage more fully with their lives. And that held a lot of promise for me. I didn't necessarily realize I wanted to go into child adolescent work until college. When I was in college, I started getting involved in mentoring programs. And my first job after college was running a summer camp for kids in low income housing communities all around Vermont. And it was really in that work where I realized that like, as much as I was trying to find a profession that was kind of a match for my energy and my passion and what kinds of problems I wanted to solve on behalf of kind of kids and adolescents, it could have ranged from summer camp director to teacher, to club [00:09:00] med greeter and crew person at a resort. But really it was psychology. That was kind of the calling was trying to figure out how to bring some of what we have existing in the mental health field into the settings where it's needed most and figure out how to scale that across my career. And that's really been a passion and the reason why I work at Child Mind Institute.
[00:09:17] Danielle Scorrano: Mmm, I love how you talked about the intersection between talking with people, solving complex problems. And then when you said helping people live that full, well life, having that integrated approach to wellness, I like that a lot. That leads me to my next question. When you talk about this intersection of talking with people, solving complex problems and treating wellness during the pandemic, it's like nothing I would imagine you've ever experienced because I know it's nothing that we've ever experienced in the public and in the community. And I will say a quick story. I like to bring in quick stories. You talked about the 40 people at your wedding. First of all, I've been at weddings with college friends. And you have the big picture of your college or the big sign. , I've never heard of having [00:10:00] 40 people take a group picture for everyone in the mental health profession.
So I love that, but when I was working remotely and our team was working remotely, I told you before we started to record that I would sit down, have my cup of coffee and in the background, I'd be watching Good Morning America. And all of a sudden I would hear, we have our expert, Dr. Dave Anderson, and immediately I had to tune in, obviously, because I've learned so much from you already in my career. You always had this combination of expertise and approachability, and also like this incredible solace for all of us that were tuning in. So I thought like whenever you were talking, I needed to know more. So as you look in the pandemic, there's obviously been so much that we've been dealing with, the numerable stress and trauma. What have you noticed about the commonalities of stresses and traumas that perhaps our kids and our communities are facing right now?
[00:10:51] Dr. Dave Anderson: So I'll start with myself since, you brought up the GMA spots earlier in the pandemic. I mean, look, for all of your kind words about how calm the ocean [00:11:00] looks on the surface, I've struggled with debilitating anxiety my entire life. So even as I was doing those Good Morning America spots and talking about coping in the pandemic, I was barely two steps ahead of the same people that I was working with. And from my wife and me, who at the time that the pandemic, hit had a three and a half year old and a five month old, we were barely holding it together. So, you know, when I think about the effect of the pandemic, this is where we already knew that we had a crisis around child and adolescent mental health in this country before the pandemic hit, in the sense that we knew that one in five kids before they get to the age of adulthood, could be diagnosed with mental health learning disorder.
And we knew the vast majority of those kids do not get treatment, that there was a terrible shortage of providers, that there's no mental health parody across the country and that we already have a problem, even insuring things medically that we need to as a country. And we definitely don't insure things mental health wise to make sure that people get access to the services they need.
We still have a debate going on across the U.S. pre-pandemic about whether or not mental health disorders are really real common and [00:12:00] treatable, which we know that they are. So that was what existed before the pandemic. And then what we know from the research during the pandemic is that symptoms of anxiety and depression, or people's reports of subjective stress, vastly increased as the pandemic went on in particularly in those first few months. What we also know is that at one level, there's folks like me where I had a secure job. I had a secure house. I knew where my meals were coming from. And even if I was wiping down my groceries in the first few weeks, I could at least get some measure of kind of solace. And the major source of stress was just trying to figure out how to occupy my kids. When they were at home all day and school had been canceled, right. There were families dying in droves at that time. There were families who couldn't access food, families, losing their housing and it was disproportionately affecting poorer communities or communities of color, at the beginning of the pandemic.
So, you know, when we look across the kinds of effects, in general, the pandemic has had a massively, mental health and injurious effect on [00:13:00] the population. But at the same time where we expect that certain parts of the population that already had certain protective factors before the pandemic will likely return to normal levels to some degree over time. The effects for those families who already were of limited means, who already were living paycheck to paycheck, I would expect to last decades just in terms of the kind of digging out of the hole that the pandemic created. And that's really where we look at kind of the divide increasing mental health wise, and why most professional organizations declared a crisis in child and adolescent mental health as of last Fall.
[00:13:36] Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. Wow. There's so much to unpack there when you talk about just when the pandemic started until now. And my next question was, in what ways has this changed? And as you were talking, when you talked about the effects lasting decades, I was thinking about the disparities of how the pandemic has affected many different families. So not only from [00:14:00] the community perspective, but the family and then individual, and I can connect a little bit back to me having a number of protective factors, connecting with you- having a consistent job and knowing where my meals are going to come from. I don't have children yet, so not having to be a parent and navigating working and things like that, but I am a person with a chronic illness. And so even thinking about how we're trying to get back to a new normal, and I feel weird saying that because as we've moved back past from those really heightened traumatic times. I've been wrestling with what to call this is this like back to normal, a new normal. And I think language is really powerful in how we name our emotions and our experiences. But when you talked about the impacts lasting decades and this mental health crisis, what would you call, I guess, these various phases of the pandemic that we're in, or would you caution [00:15:00] others from trying to name time periods in a certain way and how we're trying to deal with all the effects that the pandemic brought?
[00:15:07] Dr. Dave Anderson: I mean, I think that more than anything change is the constant. It's that, what we all as humans, I think have a lot of difficulty with is, you know, letting go of things that have changed forever. So, to your point. I've never said new normal or return to normal, partly because a, the effects of the pandemic were so vastly different for certain sections of population that to call the new normal, something that was uniform for people was kind of lunacy. And at the same time, even to call back to normal, it's that, what I hope for with the pandemic is a couple things. It's that in the midst of the loss and devastation in the midst of knowing, for example, that at this stage, likely near 200,000 children have lost a caregiver at some point in the pandemic and hundreds of thousands more [00:16:00] worldwide, losing a caregiver. I mean, there's loss and devastation. There's wildly different data across the world in terms of what we know about the effects of the pandemic.
What I often try to think about, on these things is trying to get us as humans to sit with the fact that things may not necessarily go all the way back to normal. They may not necessarily be better than they were three years ago in perpetuity, in every area and that the focus should be on adapting to change and learning because if anything, if the pandemic has done anything it may have, and this is something that I think there's still time will tell, it may have decreased stigma around mental health in certain ways. It may have made people more open in talking about the struggles that they're experiencing, which is great. It may have made people more staunch advocates for the kinds of support that people need in the sense that even after last year, so many educators were saying or were told, I should say, oh, now you're back to [00:17:00] normal you know, this will be a full year of in-person instruction. And from what we hear, every educator to a person that our school and community programs team has talked to, it was by no means normal. There were still many things that were deeply disturbed from the kind of pre- 2020 kind of version of their job or their work or their engagement with kids.
And there were many troubling trends in terms of things that they were trying to address. So it really comes back to if we can think about the elevated role that mental health and wellness is playing in our lives, in the wake of the pandemic and figure out how we consciously reconstruct our communities around that would be my biggest hope. And that's where I think we've seen the best positive change is communities that really think, okay, if it's not going to go back to normal, what can we do to make it so that, we don't just gloss over this and say, well, it feels like it could be, so we'll just assume everybody's okay. When in reality, no one seems to be.
[00:17:58] Danielle Scorrano: Yeah, I love, oh my gosh. [00:18:00] Again, there's so much I want to unpack and I want to return to the community based strategies and how we support, I guess if you're thinking geographically, if you're thinking cross sections in schools, if you're thinking of collective parent groups or family groups and family units.
I want to talk about those proactive strategies, but you said something about reducing stigma and information being spread. And that just reminded. Me of the rise of social media and remote connections during the pandemic. And I am not a tick toker, but I do have a younger sister, who's 20 years younger than me. She is a teen, and of course on any given day I'm receiving a TikTok about, I don't even know what, the latest TikTok dance or she was actually sending me some information about mental health on TikTok . And initially I thought, wow, that's really great that she is using that as a platform to maybe advocate or connect with some of the mental health challenges [00:19:00] she was going through. But when we think about our kids and how information is being placed in their hands. What can you share with families and educators about this rise of social media? Is this a little too out of control or is there like a balance that we could sign find for children accessing information?
[00:19:24] Dr. Dave Anderson: I mean in general, there's no putting the genie back in the bottle with a digital era. And what I try to sift through is, the kind of handwringing that often happens in sort of generational divides where, you'll have a certain generation saying, well, in our day, this was the way that we connected, or this was the way that we got information and believing that method of connecting or getting information to be superior merely because it existed prior versus what we know from the research. And to be sure, not all screen time is created equal. There's vast number of uses for screens. Adults and [00:20:00] children are both spending a significant portion of their lives on screens.
Screens are here to stay and screens have negative and positive effects. So the reality here is that like, when you look at, for example, social media, there are disenfranchised, ostracized and marginalized groups of children and teenagers who find communities of belonging on social media more so than they might in real life, and that has enormously positive mental health effects. There are teenagers and what the research shows in general is the majority of teenagers, they're engaging with social media may have a neutral to a positive effect. At the same time, there are vulnerable populations, and there are ways that social media is constructed that we need to caution against in the sense that in our work with kids, with mental health learning disorders, the research is not good. In the sense that when we look at social media, for example, with kids who might be prone to eating disorders, we know that there are comparison effects that social media can truly exaggerate. We know that for kids with depression, social media can increase this sense that [00:21:00] people are having so much more fun than you and their lives are so much more glossy.
And they're engaged in so much great stuff while you're at home, a loser sitting alone when we know that social media just isn't accurate. There's much to caution about related to algorithmic constructions related to filters in the sense that, the more that social media constructs a life or reality, that isn't really real, the more likely kids are going to be prone to interpret that as the reality, and then to have all manner of mental health effects stem from it.
So that's where our caution to caregivers is always to think about how they can instead of just roundly rejecting the social world their kids are in, realize this is now completely integrated with any kid's social experience. That to be on social media is to be included and that our job is to understand it better and help kids make critical decisions around what they're consuming, because for better or worse, as much as we might ask digital companies to do this [00:22:00] more, algorithms are based around what you spend the most time looking at. And we're always prone to spend the most time looking at disturbing, or interesting for a number of reasons, or shocking kind of content, and the stuff that might improve our wellness might take some conscious effort to seek out rather than being passively fed.
[00:22:19] Danielle Scorrano: Hmm. I like how you brought that up and connected that back to various experiences that teens are going through and all kids are going through. I'm also thinking about when so much is happening around the world all the time, the 24 hour news cycle, I'm connecting back to when the war Ukraine broke out or when the Uvalde shooting happened or when various political issues came about in my own feed. At some point I had to turn off and say, I can't consume this anymore because it's affecting my mental health. But then I thought about the kids I've taught or the kids of my friends that are also consuming the same information. And I had this increase of anxiety [00:23:00] thinking, well, if I was that child's parent, how can I be sure that I'm protecting them from this information? And what, what can I be concerned about? Is it overly concerning for me to feel anxiety about my kids' additional anxiety from seeing information like this.
[00:23:17] Dr. Dave Anderson: Well, this is so much about how the modern parent helps to educate their child about who they are as a consumer, because what happens is, for one generation of parents, the thought was that the critical question was how you figure out in the moments where you might be fed news, who is the most credible source for your news? That is no longer the question in modern society. It's that we need to tell kids, everyone is going to fight for your eyeballs to be your provider of news. They want to make sure their push notifications are the ones that you want or elect to pop up on your phone screen. You have to decide how often you want to be be pushed. So in that sense, so much of what we counsel [00:24:00] adults and teenagers to think about is when they want to be living kind of IRL, and when they want to be receiving those push notifications and some people are actually very easily able to integrate their digital and real world life. They can see CNN updates, pop up all over the place on their phone or email updates, and still seemingly be present in the normal lives.
Multitasking's a myth. Not many people are able to necessarily do that. And so we want to be thinking from an early age, given that you're not going to be able to multitask, how can you make sure that when you are fed information, it's fed in a way that you want to digest it, and at times still prioritize the IRL tasks that you actually want to be engaged in. And even any teenager listening is going to be like, oh my gosh, he drew out IRL so much when he said that he's clearly not of my generation, which they are right.
[00:24:50] Danielle Scorrano: I mean, I don't know if IRL is even used by gen Z anymore.
[00:24:54] Dr. Dave Anderson: That's totally it. Like, I should be just like talking in a little bit different slang, like, you know, it's not necessarily dope [00:25:00] and you could be in your bag at certain points and you want to be thinking about whether or not the newsfeed is doing the right thing for you, that kind of thing.
[00:25:07] Danielle Scorrano: Excuse me while I go onto my phone to figure out what each of those phrases mean.
[00:25:11] Dr. Dave Anderson: But these are just the things that my adolescent patients teach me and then laugh at me. I mean, my staff have even gotten as a joke for me, even pre pandemic, flashcards to use so that I can maybe sound like I'm a little bit more hip.
[00:25:23] Danielle Scorrano: Right. . Well, I will say that during the pandemic again, my teenage sister got really into Olivia Rodrigo and I also became an Olivia Rodrigo fan and she quickly reminded me that I wasn't gen Z enough.
[00:25:36] Dr. Dave Anderson: I'm barely a millennial. It depends on which definition people are going with.
[00:25:40] Danielle Scorrano: Oh, that's amazing.
[00:25:41] Dr. Dave Anderson: But you know what, I'm trying to describe things as fire, or I'm trying to describe Lizzo's new song as a banger, still the kids like see through that. And they're like, I don't think so. I think you need to go back to stuff like rad or awesome because those are the words that are really, you know, the ones that I could take and keep..
[00:25:56] Danielle Scorrano: Yeah, okay. So I actually, you actually said [00:26:00] something and I want to repeat it that you said multitasking is a myth. Can you explain that a little more? Because there are plenty of people that I've had conversations with from dinner parties to maybe an email chain back and forth, thats that still question multitasking as a myth. What is happening?
[00:26:18] Dr. Dave Anderson: I mean, when I think multitasking, I think it's just people wanting to believe that they don't have to take away the thing that gives them a positive emotion in favor of the thing that does not give them that positive emotion. So in that sense, we're all capable of great self delusion. So it's this idea of paying attention in a class. And you've got kids who really want to tell themselves that texting with their friend or researching something online won't take away from the focus on the lecture or the class discussion. When in reality they know it does. They know they didn't hear the thing their friend just said in the English class discussion. And now they're a little bit behind the times in discussing the Vonnegut novel that's going on in the English. And it's those kinds of things where we want to believe, for [00:27:00] example, that it's fine to have our phone face up at the table next to us. And then all we're doing is just making sure that if the babysitter, texts us from our kids, we could be there. But the reality is now anytime anything pops up as a notification on the phone, I'm wondering if it is the babysitter and I'm not really present on the date that I'm having with my partner.
And so it's all of us thinking that our brain might work in a different way because we want it to, but it's just wishful thinking. There's no research showing that task performance increases, the more tasks you're doing. Our task performance is optimized when we're doing a single task. Now, granted, it can be optimized by a number of environmental factors, but like in general, there's no time where we're doing multiple tasks and we're seemingly better than if we were doing one task.
[00:27:44] Danielle Scorrano: So you've already provided so many strategies. Thank you for that. I think that's a good reminder to me as my phone is sitting next to me, face up, like I'm expecting an email where I know I'm fully engaged with you, but something goes up, maybe I'll look to the side and see like, it's [00:28:00] that important.
[00:28:00] Dr. Dave Anderson: Completely. My phone is on a stand turned around because I know that if I get a notification from my daughter's preschool or my wife or whatever it is, I might be like, wait a second. I need to see if my daughter had snack, but that's not really an important piece of information I need to be fed right now.
[00:28:17] Danielle Scorrano: That's a good point. So what I hear you're talking about in multitasking is recognizing two things. It's that first, we're human that we can't expect these superpowers to come and say, even though I want myself to do it, like we just can't do it. And then also the incredible power of mindfulness. In this podcast, you've talked about how communities that were more supportive, there's been more of this collective way that people have been able to manage the pandemic better. And so I want to talk about strategies simply from the self more to the community and system.
[00:28:52] Dr. Dave Anderson: Sure.
[00:28:52] Danielle Scorrano: So let's start with self care during this pandemic, and we can talk about children in a minute, but I want to talk about adults [00:29:00] because I think sometimes we were so focused on how do I help my child manage the pandemic better. How do I help my child experience more joy or deal with the effects of loss? What do we, as adults, do? First, is self-care the word even the word to use, or is that something like a term, we should no longer be using like rad that you use with gen z'ers. What do we call that?
[00:29:21] Dr. Dave Anderson: I mean, I think self-care, the issue that we have with a term like self-care is that, we mean in a certain way, it's for someone to maintain their basic wellness so they can be available for their children or for their job or for their partner in the way that they want to be all too often, the way that people might demonize a term like self-care is as an overindulgent kind of like thing where, somebody has to be on a yoga retreat for four days in order to show up at work.
And that kind of thing, where we don't necessarily want to say that there's a one size fits all approach to self care. We don't necessarily want to say that four day yoga retreats are bad. We just want people to be able to think about [00:30:00] where their limits are in a society that's sick with this, in a society that does not take it's paid time off, in a society where commonly vacation is thought of as like you couldn't hack it because you have to take some time for yourself, either sick days or mental health days. And that's a real problem when we feel pressure, like to not take time, to actually recharge because we somehow believe that means we're failing at being able to work as continuously as everybody else. So what we're doing with most adults is we're trying to first undermine cognitions of perfection. I'm trying to say look, even as you think that like that other parent that you really admire is just like there for their kids at all times. Inevitably, no human functions like that they're not with their kids 24 7, always providing support, always saying the right thing. Not even psychologists are able to do that. We're trained to be able to provide families that support and still mental health professionals are going to have the moments where they are absolutely zonked out where they're still yelling at [00:31:00] their kids or where they're absolutely exasperated and need to take a break, and those moments are going to happen pretty frequently.
So we start off by undermining that perfectionism. Then the next thing that you're talking about for adult self care is we tell people as many fancy tricks as mental health professionals have, basic habits of wellness are the foundation. If you are not focusing on trying to get some sleep, if you're not eating regularly, if you're not hydrating, and if you're not moving your body, there's only so much work my fancy tricks can do to improve your wellness beyond those things, because I can't necessarily do that much with a person whose sleep deprivation is extremely pronounced. Like mental health has a ceiling there. And similarly, if somebody is not moving their body or not able to engage in any sort of exercise, it's going to be difficult to feel like they're maximizing some of their health or wellness. Now beyond those wellness habits, then what we focused on with people are thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. The basic approach to [00:32:00] wellness that underlies all of therapy is let's talk about your emotions. Let's gather data around what your emotional experience is with the various significant people in your life and throughout your day, let's figure out where the points are, where you want to decrease stress, or you're hoping that you might feel a little bit more relaxed or you're hoping to tolerate a particular emotion more, maybe some of those emotions can be coped with actively so we can decrease stress. Maybe some of them are just emotions you're going to have to ride out. I'm afraid of planes, no matter what. And even in my work with my own therapist, I'm never going to feel comfortable on planes at some level. I'm just going to be riding on the plane thinking we're probably going to die and trying to just watch whatever TV show I have elected to watch.
So that's distress tolerance. But then with emotions that you might be able to change or stress you might be able to decrease, we want to teach people a set of strategies to help them modify their thoughts, to help them engage in activities that might boost their mood, or to get to a word you've already mentioned, to be more mindful and to focus on kind of relaxation, where they can get [00:33:00] a little bit more in touch with what's going on and bring themselves to perhaps a state of being more present with their kids, even amidst all the other stresses that are going on.
All of that is life's work. So what I just summarized in a couple minutes, people get that conceptually very quickly. What's important is that nobody thinks it's easy because everybody makes goals around exercising or eating healthy, or getting more sleep or doing things that are gonna help be more mindful. And the hope, the last building block of wellness is self-compassion. It's realizing that understanding all of that entails setting small goals, working on it over time and tinkering and realizing there are going to be points in your life when you just completely fail at your own wellness. But that's just what it is.
[00:33:46] Danielle Scorrano: I love how you brought in that it's life's work. And actually, as you were talking, I don't know if you noticed this, but my shoulders had initially been a little higher to my ears. And slowly they started to just calm themselves. I don't know [00:34:00] what it was, but thank you for that. Maybe it was just this therapy session between the two of us.
[00:34:05] Dr. Dave Anderson: It's a common thing. I mean, like when people start doing either body scans or relaxation exercises, they'll notice that they carry stress in a certain part of the body. What I always notice is my forehead and chin it's that the second a body scan gets there, I realize just how much I grit my teeth at all times, anxiously. And that if I just relax my jaw, it immediately brings on better breathing, a bigger sense of relaxation. And it's like, I just keep rediscovering it over time. Even though I work on this and do this all day, it's so profound. It's like, wow. I didn't even realize I was gonna furrow my eyebrow. Like I'm focusing on relaxing the muscles in my face right now. I just basically Botox myself as we're talking.
[00:34:43] Danielle Scorrano: Yeah, you look great. Your eyes are brighter. I see the energy.
[00:34:46] Dr. Dave Anderson: I like what we're describing for listeners. Just like how I've clearly relaxed and looked 10 years younger already as we talk about it.
[00:34:51] Danielle Scorrano: Absolutely. Yeah. I like what you said about this wellness of bringing what we know to practice. A lot of what Laurie Santos talks about at Yale is bringing that [00:35:00] knowledge, I think she says wisdom to practice or just knowledge to practice. And it's interesting because you talk about consistently moving your body, good nutrition. These are the things that are foundational they're I hate to say back to basics, but they're foundational. They're core to how we live as humans. And it's about that practice and it is life's work. And self-compassion, Kristen Neff's work has been really impactful for me as well with self-compassion and I'm happy you brought that up.
And as we are these mindfully practicing self-compassionate adults working with kids every day, how does that translate to our children? So even with all the practices that we've implemented as adults, I mean, I have a regular meditation practice. If I go into a classroom of kids that maybe aren't feeling great that day or a little more boisterous, or even just a group of kids that are feeling the weight of anxiety from this pandemic, what are some strategies that you tell [00:36:00] families, parents, teachers about how to support our children now during , with all the social implications and everything happening?
[00:36:09] Dr. Dave Anderson: So there's a major distinction. It's one of the first things I talk to parents, educators, or anybody else about that you just highlighted, which is this divide where people will often come in from a kind of deficiency mindset where, to the points of it, we're making about adult wellness. It's that adults will define themselves as what they are, not as a parent or what they are not in their career. And believe that they can't take a moment for their own wellness, because they have so much to do on those fronts. Similarly, when adults approach kids, we're commonly thinking about all the things we have to teach those kids, all the things that we have to mentor them through all the growth they have to do before we lose control. And they're suddenly in adulthood and they're on their own. And it's about switching it over to the same level of self-compassion and loving kindness, and realizing that kids are even more inefficient versions of the machine.
So, if we are going to [00:37:00] do as our life's work, work on ourselves in trying to foster wellness habits, I mean, the reason why as you reference Laurie Santo's work, which is brilliant, is so life changing for so many people is it's not as if positive psychology is giving people things where it's oh my gosh, I would never have understood the universe's mysteries in this way. It's not, a new telescope showing us a new galaxy.
It's literally saying, let's talk about your sleep and how we get little parts of that back or how we get you a little bit more mindful and present in these moments with your kids. It's the same thing in understanding the gradual patient nature of change in shaping kids. It's going back to basic principles, understanding that relationships are the only facilitator of change amongst humans. You don't get necessarily a human to change, unless there's some kind of bedrock of the relationship you have, whether there's some level of respect or there's some level of positive regard, or there's some level of emotional availability or support. [00:38:00] That's what brings people to someone else in order to facilitate change. And then beyond that, it's also understanding how people accept advice and mentorship and change it's that they accept advice and mentorship and change. If there seems to be a belief from that other person, that the majority of them is lovable, the majority of them is appreciated, the majority of what they do is seen as good effort or trying, or trying to engage in the right way. And then that there's a minority of them as a person that is perhaps things that need to be fixed or things that need to be shifted people, reject anybody who doesn't feel like that to them, where frequently a lot of adults will highlight how they believe respect is a mediator of that, where they could say, I can give much more critical feedback because kids respect me and that's usually more synonymous with fear than respect and fear is not a thing to change humans. It doesn't actually make us feel more bonded or more happy about the change, even if it will get what we're looking for. [00:39:00] Power is similar. It'll get us change, but we're often change against it wishing that power differential didn't exist. Our best facilitator is a relationship that starts from a base of appreciation.
[00:39:11] Danielle Scorrano: Yeah. Oh, I love that you have me laughing, tearing, I mean, somehow breathing better. I don't know what's happening in this hour, but it's magical.
[00:39:21] Dr. Dave Anderson: I'm glad. This is therapy by podcast. I like it.
[00:39:23] Danielle Scorrano: Yeah, I know we only have a few minutes, but I want to get back to some of the work that Child Mind Institute is doing. You talked a lot about the school based work and the community based work that you've been doing. Is there anything you'd like to share with our audiences about how they can become more involved with Child Mind, whether it's talking a little bit more, actually, I'll let you talk about instead of leading any questions. Tell us more about what Child Mind is doing that we can become more involved in.
[00:39:50] Dr. Dave Anderson: I mean, obviously the most frequent ways that people become involved with us, the first and most frequent is just through our website, childmind.org, and then through various social media [00:40:00] channels that we have where we create videos or push content, as part of our public education mission.
So in that sense, when people go and look at our articles or the videos that we make, they're all focused on bringing the science of mental health and the fact that mental health learning disorders are really common and treatable to the general populace as a way of breaking down stigma and giving people hope that, change can happen, that they can be helped in promoting their own wellness beyond that. The next way that people will engage with us is either via receiving care or by supporting care. So in that sense, we are a nonprofit so some of our care comes through our clinical practice where people, might be attending care with our clinicians at either our offices in New York or San Francisco.
Some of that care comes through what we deliver to school and community settings, where it's by government sources, philanthropy or generous donors who want to make sure that kids get the treatment they might not otherwise have access to or might not otherwise be able to afford. And then the last way that people generally will engage with us is through our research team, which means [00:41:00] that our research team is, constantly working around themes of big data and open science.
We share all of our data with the world. So the focus is on making sure authors across the world and scientists across the world can publish more on our data than even we can leading to breakthroughs in our lifetime on ways that we adapt technology and mental health or ways that we can find objective markers of mental health learning disorders. And so if people are interested in those kinds of things, those are all the ways to engage with us at Child Mind.
[00:41:29] Danielle Scorrano: That's amazing. And we'll have all those resources on the READ Podcast website.
[00:41:33] Dr. Dave Anderson: Sure.
[00:41:34] Danielle Scorrano: Last question for you, Dr. Anderson, we are entering a new school year. I would imagine even with all of these breathing techniques, the laughter that we've shared, back to school anxiety is real. So do you have any final thoughts or messages for our READ listeners and their families as we embark on a new school year together?
[00:41:51] Dr. Dave Anderson: Of course, in terms of advice for the new school year, it's being gentle with yourself because I think there's so much pressure, especially now [00:42:00] that we are, in a post vaccine era and in many school districts across the country, even as cases actually increase school districts are trying to think about how they can go back to school without face masks this year. There's a lot of pressure to feel like, we are getting back to what school felt like pre pandemic and the reality is there's still a lot to deal with. And so what I like hearing from schools as we go back is thinking about how we can check in with each other to not assume that necessarily the summer has gone incredibly well, for everybody to think how schools are implementing mental health and wellness support at all tiers in the sense that like, how are we making sure there are discussions going on amongst all stakeholders and community from educators to caregivers, to students about how we're doing, how we can make sure that there's things that are going on for all students within a given community, around promoting habits of wellness and supporting each other. And then finally, how we're caring for the most vulnerable, the kids who really do have these [00:43:00] diagnoses of mental health and learning disorders and making sure that they're getting the help they need, and that we're not delaying for fear of stigma or labeling or because we wonder if they can access the right services. It's if we do those things together as a community, we're generally gonna come up pretty ok.
[00:43:15] Danielle Scorrano: Mm. I love all of those final insights. To be honest with you. This is going to be a podcast episode that I personally listen to at least once a month throughout the school year. So Dr. Dave Anderson, thank you so much for being on the READ Podcast. I thank you so much for the forum, the insightful questions, hopefully some nuggets that can be useful to listeners. And thank you for having me. Thank you.
Dr. Dave Anderson, leading expert in child and adolescent mental health at Child Mind Institute, joins the READ Podcast for a timely and vital conversation about wellness and mental health in the wake of the pandemic. Dr. Anderson addresses the current mental health crisis and discusses its disparate impacts that could last for decades. He provides both solace and actionable strategies for children and adults to build habits of wellness and offers expert guidance on how families and schools support children and communities during these challenging times. Host Danielle Scorrano calls this conversation “therapy by podcast,” as Dr. Anderson’s insights benefit children, adolescents, and adults in life’s work toward overall wellness and self-care.
Top READ Bookmarks
Each episode, host Danielle Scorrano identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.”
1. Addressing the disparate impact of the pandemic.
Episode bookmark: Listen to 14:50 – 17:58 to learn more.
“I think more than anything, [the pandemic has shown] that change is the constant."
The pandemic has had far-reaching and disparate impacts on individuals and communities with the effects lasting decades.
"It comes back to the elevated role that mental health and wellness are playing in our lives in the wake of the pandemic and figuring out how we consciously reconstruct our communities around that."
2. Acknowledging that not all screen time is created equal
Episode bookmark: Listen to 19:00 – 22:19 to learn more about social media and mental health. Listen to 23:00 – 24:00 about insights on integrating the digital life world with life off screen.
During the pandemic, social media brought about connections and methods of belonging for teens, especially for marginalized and disenfranchised groups. However, research has shown that the way social media is constructed can curate a life that is not reality, and as a result, it can detrimentally impact child and adolescent mental health.
"Our caution to caregivers is, instead of roundly rejecting the digital social world their kids are in, realize this is now completely integrated with our children’s social experiences."
Adults should actively expand beyond teaching children to critically evaluate the credibility of sources (i.e. the who or what of information) to also discerning how children are receiving information online from a variety of sources (including credible sources).
"We need to tell kids, everyone is going to fight for your eyeballs to be your provider of news. They want to make sure their push notifications are the ones that you elect to pop up on your phone screen. You have to decide how often you want to be pushed."
3. Self-care strategies for adults
Episode bookmark: Listen to 29:21 – 33:46 to learn more.
"Self-care is for someone to maintain their basic wellness so they can be available for their children, job, or partner in a way that they want to be. But all too often, the way that people might demonize a term like self-care is an overindulgent kind of thing."
A framework for self-care and promotive well-being:
- Foundational habits of wellness: healthy amounts of sleep, nutrition, hydration, movement
"As many fancy tricks as mental health professionals have, basic habits of wellness are the foundation."
- Thoughts, behaviors, and emotions: strategies to modify thoughts, engagement in activities to boost mood and decrease stress, and integration of mindfulness to be more present amidst daily stresses
"[Self-compassion involves] setting small goals, working on them over time, and tinkering with them, and realizing there are going to be points in our life when you just completely fail at your own wellness."
- Self-compassion: letting go of perfectionism and recognizing our common humanity, building in more kindness toward ourselves
"Wellness is life’s work."
4. Supporting our children in their wellness journeys
Episode bookmark: Listen to 36:09 – 39:11 to learn more.
Caring relationships filled with compassion and empathy are the cornerstone to supporting children in their wellness journeys.
"Relationships are the only facilitators of change amongst humans. You don’t necessarily get a human to change, unless there’s some kind of bedrock of relationship… The best facilitator is a relationship that starts from a base of appreciation."
5. Managing back-to-school anxiety
Episode bookmark: Listen to 41:15 – 43:15 to learn more.
Dr. Anderson’s advice for back-to-school anxiety: high levels of self-compassion and empathy for others
"In terms of advice for the new school year, it’s being gentle with yourself because there’s so much pressure, especially now that we are in a post vaccine era… to feel like we are getting back to what school felt like pre-pandemic and the reality is there’s still a lot to deal with."
Dr. Anderson’s framework for caring communities includes the following:
1. Implementing mental health support across all tiers of the community and not assuming that the summer went incredibly well for everyone
2. Promoting habits of wellness across all adults and students across the school
3. Building intentional supports for most vulnerable population of students including children diagnosed with mental health and learning disorders and ensuring access to mitigate fear of stigma
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About READ: READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices in fields of education and child development.
Note: All information and insights shared demonstrate the expertise and views of our guests and does not constitute an endorsement by The Windward Institute or The Windward School.