Psychiatrist Dr. Anandhi Narasimhan

The psychiatrist discusses how to identify and treat mental illness in your kids.

Anandhi Narasimhan, M.D. is a Board Certified Physician accredited by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology specializing in Adult, Child, and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Dr. Narasimhan has distinguished herself in child trauma and neuroimaging research and has published her work including co-authoring a book chapter, “Child and Adolescent Responses to Trauma.” Dr. Narasimhan currently runs a private practice in Westwood, Los Angeles, in addition to serving as an independent contractor for Aviva Family and Children’s Services and Masada Homes, which are both non-profit agencies with the Department of Mental Health.

Follow @anandhinarasimh on Twitter.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis Smiley: Good evening from Los Angeles. I’m Tavis Smiley.

One in five children in this country shows a sign of a mental health disorder that can significantly interfere with their daily life and make learning a serious challenge. Tonight then is part of our Road to Health series, a conversation with adolescent psychiatrist, Dr. Anandhi Narasimhan, about how to identify and treat mental illness in your kids.

Then Grammy winner and two-time Oscar-nominated singer-songwriter, Siedah Garrett, joins us for a conversation and the premier performance of her new single.

We’re glad you’ve joined us. All of that in just a moment.

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Tavis: And by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation working with diverse partners to build a national culture of health so that everyone in America can live productive and healthy lives.

The California Endowment. Health happens in neighborhoods. Learn more.

Announcer: And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Tavis: A child’s mental health is without a doubt one of the most important aspects of their development. But in today’s high-tech world, conditions like anxiety and depression have become increasingly common. For more now about how to identify problems with and what to do about our children who suffer from these illnesses, pleased to welcome Dr. Narasimhan to this program. Doc, good to have you on.

Dr. Anandhi Narasimhan: Thanks for having me.

Tavis: Before I get into the specific symptoms and how to treat those symptoms — you’re the physician, not me — but it just seems to me with all the anger and all the anxiety in the world, you turn on your television, get in the car, turn on the radio, pick up your phone, it’s like we’re just being inundated with news and information that causes anxiety, that causes anger. I suspect if adults feel that, then children must feel that as well.

Narasimhan: Absolutely. There’s this trickle-down effect. You know, when I talk to parents, I always talk about role modeling. So if a parent’s anxious or if they’re irritable, a lot of times we’ll see the same symptoms in the children as well.

So, yes, absolutely, I think the way adults talk, the way adults communicate, whether it’s virtually or in person, absolutely does have an effect on young people because they’re listening.

Tavis: At this particular moment, though, in this country, indeed around the world — I don’t need to run through the news headlines. You see the same thing I see — are you seeing children who are being more acutely impacted by this because of this moment that we find ourselves in?

Narasimhan: That’s complex and interesting. I do hear conversations from young people asking me about the future, about all the uncertainty, like what’s going to happen to them? What’s going to even happen to their healthcare? Really young children wanting to know the answers to these questions. So they are hearing and they are listening and they are worried about what may happen to their parents, their families.

With immigration, I’ll have a lot of young children ask me what’s going to happen with their families? Are they going to be separated from their parents? So, yes, I think the current environment does affect the dialog that my patients, these young children, are having with me.

Tavis: Does that mean that — since your earlier point was that children oftentimes mirror what you see in adults — does that mean that adults shouldn’t have these kinds of conversations in front of their kids?

Narasimhan: Well, I think that children can listen in numerous ways. They can even sense anxiety in the parents. So if the parents are very anxious about their financial situation or if they’ve been laid off from their job, the child’s going to know.

So I don’t always encourage secrets from children, but there are certain adult themes that don’t need to be discussed with children or arguments don’t need to be had in front of children.

It depends on the topic and it depends on how that child is being affected by that particular topic or an environmental change. If there’s going to be some major life change in a family such as a separation, a child should know about it and they should be prepared for it. The issue is not necessarily the conflict itself, but how it’s handled.

Tavis: What kind of signs should parents be looking for if or when their children are being affected in these ways?

Narasimhan: There can be numerous signs that a parent can see when their child is struggling with anxiety or mood changes. One of the things to remember is that children can’t express themselves very well because they’re at a developmental stage where they’re not able to use their words, like to say, “I’m really scared” or “I’m afraid” or “I’m feeling very nervous.”

So they don’t say these things. Instead, what we’ll see is sometimes they’re not doing very well in school or they’re acting out at school or they’re getting into fights or they’re not sleeping well at night or not eating well. So there will be different kinds of scenarios, so my role is really cool in that I’m like a detective when I talk to these children.

The parent may say, well, you know, he’s not doing well in school, she’s not sleeping well, she won’t separate from me and I don’t know what this stuff means. Then I’ll talk to the child and, you know, I’ll get a little bit more why this might be happening.

Tavis: And when you discover through your detective work what’s ailing or bothering the child, what do you do? What happens next or what’s a parent to do at that point?

Narasimhan: So a lot of what I do initially is what we call psychoeducation in mental health. That means I’ll give the parent information. I’ll even talk to the child. So it’s first informing them what I think is going on. I might, you know, say, “I think your child’s really anxious.” A lot of times a child comes to me because there’s been some major life stress in the family and the child’s reacting to it.

I see homeless families, so some of these children are in transitional housings or they’re in hotels and that’s affecting them, so they’re engaging in other behaviors. So I’ll explain this to the parent. Like the reason why this is happening is because your child’s having anxiety or stress due to this and how do we deal with it.

So one of the things I might do is just simply logistics, allocation of resources, or calling up a case manager and saying, hey, can you help this family with housing? Or I think this child’s parent is really anxious. Can we help the parent get some treatment?

Because a lot of times, you treat the parent, you’re also treating the child. The child automatically gets better when you treat the parent. So that’s what I start out doing. Then we’ll talk about other forms of treatment or where to go from there.

Tavis: How much of what kids are feeling these days in terms of anxiousness has to do with the environments in which they live? I don’t mean just inside the home with parents, I mean literally environmental factors.

Narasimhan: A lot, a lot. A lot of problems are school-based and bullying. It’s not new, but it continues to be a big problem. Now we have a different platform of bullying which is the digital world with all the technological advances.

So you’ll see children who don’t want to go to school and they won’t say why and they’re afraid that if they do out their bullies that it’s going to come back to them worse. So that’s still a big issue.

Other environmental factors are what’s going on at home. What’s going on in their neighborhood. Some of my patients come from unsafe neighborhoods and then they’re experiencing these things and that’s causing them to be anxious. So there’s all sorts of environmental influences that affect a child’s mental health.

Tavis: When you see these children, what gives you hope that you can address the concerns that so many kids increasingly are having these days?

Narasimhan: You know, I think the beauty of what I do is that when you catch things early or when you identify problems early, sometimes the interventions are just small interventions, but they have an enormous affect long-term. You can really alter the trajectory of these children’s lives by early intervention.

So the best form of mental health treatment is early mental health treatment. And there’s also now we’re moving into preventive mental health. You don’t want children to have more anxiety in the future or depression or suicidal thoughts in the future.

So there are ways and there are treatments that are effective in preventing those things. So that gives me a lot of hope and resilience. I mean, children by nature are resilient and their brains are still developing, so there’s a lot that you can do to make sure that the brain is developing in a positive way.

Tavis: Thank you for your work. Good to have you on the program.

Narasimhan: Thank you.

Tavis: My pleasure. Up next, singer-songwriter Siedah Garrett. Stay with us.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at pbs.org.

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Tavis: And by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation working with diverse partners to build a national culture of health so that everyone in American can live productive and healthy lives.

The California Endowment. Health happens in neighborhoods. Learn more.

Announcer: And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Last modified: July 5, 2017 at 2:23 pm