We Can Prevent Our Children’s Psychological Problems.

We Can Prevent Our Children’s Psychological Problems.

Today we rightfully worry about conserving the earth’s energy supplies and finding more renewable energy resources for our future. However,  there is one precious resource of renewable energy that has already been “discovered”,  then forgotten and squandered shamelessly. 

That renewable resource is America’s children. No better thing can ever replace our intellectually, physically, and emotionally healthy children. No other source of  “pure and renewable energy” will ever reduce America’s crippling high rates of psychologically disordered people with damaging behavior problems as quickly, significantly and cost-effectively, as having and raising increasing numbers of our own healthy developing children. It is appropriate that we think of damaged infants and children as “damaged cells” in the socio-cultural animal that America is. It is essential that we prevent damage to our wonderful human life-source in every way possible.

I am unaware of any definitive estimates of the percentages of psychological disorders and behavior problems in children that can be prevented. The development of psychological and behavioral problems in our children can stem from genetics, biological damage and environmental experiences; or, from complex interactions between any of these powerful forces. As previously mentioned, and as we will further explore, all we know is that children who have been exposed to a variety of risk factors are at significantly increased risk for the development of physical, mental and behavioral problems.

The concept of genetic diathesis is critically important to the consideration of prevention of psychological disorders. Genetic diathesis refers to the well-documented observation that various psychological disorders are made more likely to occur through a child’s genetic inheritance. Put differently, children can acquire a genetic weakness to break-down, under stressful conditions, and be at great risk of developing a variety of psychological disorders. Research has demonstrated that genetic diathesis is significantly involved in psychological problems such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, ADHD, retardation and autism. Genetic diathesis is also involved in many other psychological problems to be discussed later.

Diathesis for many psychological problems can also be acquired through various powerful environmental experiences. Physical and sexual abuse, neglect, and other debilitating experiences in childhood are frequently associated with psychological problems. These individual’s psychological problems then fluctuate directly with the stress levels that they experience throughout life. Research has also documented this environmental diathesis effect.

At a practical level, the matter of separating genetic from environmental diathesis is difficult and requires sophisticated genetic evaluations, group studies and statistical analyses. While we are only beginning to understand the genetic determinants of psychological disorders, we do know most of the likely environmental causes of our population’s psychological problems.

The basic idea that I present is simple: To reduce the rate of population psychological problems,  America (or any socioculture) must organize itself in ways that protect infants, children and youth from conditions and experiences that we know cause diathesis for psychological disorders.

On the basis of 43 years of experience studying, teaching, and providing behavior modification services and other forms of psychotherapy to children and families, it is my strong impression that 60-80% of our child psychological problems can be prevented. By extrapolation, I judge that a large percentage of our adult psychological problems can also be prevented.

It is important to note that for some disorders with very strong bio-genetic determinants such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, or severe and profound mental retardation, this estimated range would be a gross over estimation. But it has been my experience that the vast majority of even these child and adolescent psychological disorders can be significantly improved through early intervention by competent mental health professionals, medication assistance and the application of effective parenting and teaching skills. 

On the other hand, this estimated 60-80% range may be too low for problems that can have much stronger environmental causes, such as Oppositional-defiant, conduct disorder, some depression or anxiety problems, as well as a variety of personality disorders.

Until future research provides an empirical basis for more accurate predictions, I will stick with these promising personal experience-based assumptions.

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D.  10/26/09

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2 Responses to “We Can Prevent Our Children’s Psychological Problems.”

  1. vtmawhinney Says:

    Thanks for your unusual perspective, Frank.

    I will continue to think of damaged infants, children, and adults as “damaged cells” in the American cultural organism. I will have much more to say about this as my blog moves along.

    For the present, I suggest that you Google “repairing damaged cells” to see the scientific research and progress that is on-going and promising about doing exactly that: repairing damaged cells.

    As a practicing psychotherapist I have spent over 30 years helping to “repair” children, adolescents, and adults damaged through the bioppsychosocial mechanisms that I will be explaining. I assure you that prevention is the only human way that America can win this battle.

    “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”

    VTM, 10/27/09


  2. Frank Fujita Says:

    I do not believe that, “It is appropriate that we think of damaged infants and children as “damaged cells” in the socio-cultural animal that America is.” The appropriate action to take with damaged cells is to kill them and dispose of the refuse. That is not the appropriate action to take with damaged infants and children.


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