When Kids With Mental Illness Can’t Live At Home

Taken from  the Chicago Tribune  which is found   HERE.

Many of Christine Walker’s friends are just starting to help their teenage children plan to leave home, whether for a job, college or a gap year. But Walker’s 16-year-old son Schuyler has already lived away from his family for seven years, spending nearly half his life in residential treatment programs and schools for children with severe mental illness.

“When Schuyler was 7, that was when I had tried absolutely everything — every pill, every doctor, every diet, every therapy, everything — and we were still at a point when home was unsafe,” says Walker, who lives in Winnetka. “I realized then that everything we had been trying to do wasn’t enough.”

Walker and her husband knew that the only way to meet Schuyler’s needs and protect their two younger kids was to have their oldest child live elsewhere. However, it took two years to finally act on that decision.

“It’s a last resort, but we had to check into that resort, because we’d done everything else,” Walker recalls.

Although it is rarely talked about, the Walkers’ experience is not uncommon. In 2015, 271,000 children ages 12 to 17 received care for mental illness at a residential treatment facility. Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14, and 13 percent of American children ages 8 to 15 will experience a severe mental disorder, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. More children in this country have a psychiatric disorder than have cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined, and for the most severely affected, residential treatment is the best way to ensure their safety and help them stay out of the juvenile justice system.

However, families that send their child to residential treatment programs often face judgment and misunderstanding. Mental illness, which is often treated as a taboo topic, is even more stigmatized in its youngest victims.

“If Schuyler had cancer, I would never think of myself as a failure if I didn’t do chemo in my living room,” says Walker, whose son is on the autism spectrum and has a mood disorder. “I would never think of myself as giving up. This is a brain disorder.”

Doctors are sometimes hesitant to diagnose psychiatric disorders in children, and school systems and law enforcement are ill-equipped to handle the needs of children who can be violent and unpredictable. Too often, these systems look to the parents to explain children’s behaviors.

“There is a theme that we hear often, that parents are to blame: They need parenting classes or need to learn how to handle their kids,” says Jennifer Zielinski, program coordinator for Idaho Parents Unlimited, an organization that assists parents of children with disabilities and mental illness. Zielinski has four children, and her third, who is 11, has been in residential treatment for two years. The move allowed Zielinski to shed the roles of nurse, medication manager and parole officer and focus on being her daughter’s mom.

Most importantly, residential treatment provides the structure and resources that children with mental illness need to thrive.

“Part of it is sad, but the gift that we gave Schuyler is being surrounded by adults who get him and think he’s an amazing kid and know (how to) offer empathy and de-escalate,” says Walker, executive director of The Chasing Hope Foundation (www.thechasinghopefoundation.com), whose mission is to establish therapeutic residences within school districts as an alternative to students relocating out of state. Her son attends Wediko School in Windsor, N.H.

Even when parents realize they are doing what is best for their child, the process is painful. Christianna Hale, of Texas, says that she felt guilty sending her then-12-year-old son to live outside the home, despite years of experience working in the mental health field.

“Even within the profession, there is a judgment that if your child is in residential treatment you must have failed, that you can’t be a good parent if he’s in residential treatment,” she says.

To maintain her connection to her son, Hale makes a six-hour round trip drive each Friday and Sunday so he can spend weekends at home. Research has shown that family involvement like this is essential to the child’s long-term success.

“You can see that groups that have a higher level of (family) involvement have better outcomes,” says Gary M. Blau, of the Child, Adolescent and Family Branch of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Blau is also the director of Building Bridges, a national initiative aiming to increase family and community support in the treatment of children with mental illness. He says that while residential treatment is sometimes necessary, facilities must move past unproven practices that limit communication between children and parents, and toward community-based services that allow the child to remain at home or at least have regular, meaningful contact with their family.

“We need to show these family members that they are not alone, and that help and hope are out there for each and every one of them,” Blau says.

Hale’s son is currently transitioning to living at home, and she is hopeful that he will be able to stay under her roof. However, she avoids putting too much emphasis on returning home as the ultimate goal. For some children with mental illness, this is simply not possible, and Hale believes that those children need to feel that they are succeeding, as well. She says that she would accept her son returning to the residential school in the future if that were best for him.

“It’s about finding the place where he can be successful,” she says. “Him being successful and feeling successful is the most important thing.”

Why One College Basketball Coach Keeps Fighting To Spread Autism Awareness

Taken from CBS Sports  which is found   HERE.

It happened recently at big brother Ryan’s basketball practice. Little brother Owen was in attendance, and he happened to go up to another boy who was dribbling a ball by himself. Owen did what many kids would do.

He walked over and said, “Hi.”

Then his mom nearly burst into tears.

Kristen Skerry and her husband, Towson coach Pat Skerry, are parents to two boys. The younger of the two, Owen, is autistic. To see him make huge progress, merely by proactively being social and communicating verbally with a kid his age — without encouragement — was a huge achievement.

Owen was diagnosed as autistic before he turned 2. Kristen, a doting mother who was so intent to capture every step, movement and milestone, suspected by the time he was 18 months that her son could be autistic. Owen’s first words weren’t coming. He simply wasn’t talking. Speech pathologists and doctors told the Skerrys they could wait longer to be certain. But Kristen couldn’t help but Google other warning signs. Owen would needlessly bump into walls, and he’d look strangely out of the corner of his eyes.

“When he was 2 and got the diagnosis, I was ready to run with it,” she said. “I had the energy, accepted it, and got services ready. And you know, the psychologist that met with Owen, after we got it [the diagnosis] she said, ‘I can give you a diagnosis now or we can wait.’ And I thought, Wait? That’s when she said, ‘Some people aren’t ready to hear it.'”

***Pat Skerry was hired as Towson’s coach in 2011. He’s essentially been at the job from the time Owen was diagnosed, which hasn’t been easy on either of them. Skerry’s done well, averaging 19 wins the past four seasons, and he’ll likely hit that mark again this season (Towson is 14-10, has won six of its past seven). But the job takes him away from home often, and so he’s missed out on a lot of Owen’s development.

A few years back, when Towson was scheduled to play on national television in the middle of conference play (CAA schools don’t get many of those opportunities) he came up with the idea to have an Autism Awareness Game. He wanted to help his son, and the cause around curing autism, in whatever way could help from the position of being a basketball coach.

No push for donations, just merely a day to honor his son and try to help other families battling the affliction. Before long, the simple gesture turned into a national endeavor: “Coaches Powering Forward for Autism.”

Skerry’s good friend in the coaching profession, TCU assistant Tom Herrion, also has a child, Robert, with autism. He’s helped push the cause, and it’s made reverberations beyond basketball. The project started with the Skerrys mailing puzzle-piece pins to coaches around the country. And suddenly, Hall of Famers were wearing these pins and many people saying, “What’s that for?”

Now it’s become an understated but powerful gesture. Skerry was stunned, a couple years back, to turn on Duke-North Carolina and see Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams supporting the cause.

“That’s where the awareness comes from,” Pat Skerry said. “When the extremely popular guys, when John Calipari or Bill Self has a pin on, that’s where someone goes, ‘What is that?'”

When you watch college basketball this weekend, pretty much every college coach will have a blue puzzle-piece pin attached to his lapel. That’s for Autism Speaks. That’s for Owen Skerry and Robert Herrion.

Owen turns 8 in two weeks. He’s in a private school now, but Kristen still isn’t comfortable with him taking the bus, so she drops him off and picks him up every day. And three days a week, a therapist comes to the family’s home to help him do simple things, like play hide-and-seek or try new social activities. Sometimes this backfires. Sometimes Owen likes his routine and hates trying new things, things that make his world feel violated.

“He can be very rigid, and once we start certain things, he expects those every day, and that can cause problems for him, and he can get very upset,” Kristen Skerry said. “There’s the social piece of being around other people and wanting to engage with them, and not wanting to be on his own.”

Owen’s behavior can be unpredictable. When he was 5, he loved going to his dad’s games and sitting in the student section. The next year, he wanted to be high up in the stands, away from everything. This season, he’s as involved at games as he’s ever been. He’s growing up, but at his own pace. This Saturday, for Towson’s home game against William & Mary, the team is even bringing in an adult with autism to be the public address announcer. The school is pledging support for so many who live with the condition. The greater Baltimore area has specific programs to help adults living with autism.

It should be a pretty special day inside the new SECU Arena.

This might be the last time Coaches Powering Forward for Autism is held so late in the season, though. College basketball coaches help raise millions every year through Coaches vs. Cancer. Skerry’s collaboration with Autism Speaks always comes the weekend after the coaches where their sneakers on the sidelines and help raise money. Skerry wants to raise money too, but mostly he wants people to become more aware of how prevalent autism is. The latest statistics show 1 in 68 children are diagnosed on the spectrum.

He doesn’t want to be pushy. The earnestness of the deed reflects on the nature of the condition.

So the next step is to get some sort of early season doubleheader, something explicitly tied to Autism Speaks and putting on a day of basketball with big programs. But for now, the grassroots effort has been one of the more inspiring, humble and effective campaigns in college sports.

Towson’s home tip is at 4 p.m. ET on Saturday. When Skerry gets home that night, it will be the one night all season that he doesn’t first pop in game tape. Instead, he’ll flick around the dial and check out all the games on TV, he’ll see coaches wearing pins and take a moment with his son to appreciate what’s being done, the love being shown, to help people discover more about what autism is and how the world is, hopefully, becoming a more considerate environment for those who live with a silent battle every day.

To donate toward autism research, you can do so here.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD) In Children

Taken from the IOCDF  which can be found   HERE.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a disorder of the brain and behavior that often begins in childhood. OCD causes severe anxiety in those affected. OCD involves both obsessions and compulsions that take a lot of time and get in the way of important activities, such as school and extracurricular activities, developing friendships, and self-care.

Obsessions are intrusive and unwanted thoughts, images, or urges that occur over and over again and feel outside of the child’s control. These obsessions are unpleasant for the child and typically cause a lot of worry, anxiety, and distress.

Common obsessions may include:

  • Worrying about germs, getting sick, or dying.
  • Extreme fears about bad things happening or doing something wrong.
  • Feeling that things have to be “just right.”
  • Disturbing and unwanted thoughts or images about hurting others.
  • Disturbing and unwanted thoughts or images of a sexual nature.

Compulsions (also referred to as rituals) are behaviors the child feels he or she “must do” with the intention of getting rid of the upsetting feelings caused by the obsessions. A child may also believe that engaging in these compulsions will somehow prevent bad things from happening.

Common compulsions may involve:

  • Excessive checking (re-checking that the door is locked, that the oven is off).
  • Excessive washing and/or cleaning.
  • Repeating actions until they are “just right” or starting things over again.
  • Ordering or arranging things.
  • Mental compulsions (excessive praying, mental reviewing).
  • Frequent confessing or apologizing.
  • Saying lucky words or numbers.
  • Excessive reassurance seeking (e.g., always asking, “Are you sure I’m going to be okay?”).

In general, OCD is diagnosed when these obsessions and compulsions become so time-consuming that they negatively interfere with the child’s daily life. Typically, the obsessions and compulsions become gradually more severe over time until they get to this point.

In rare cases, symptoms may develop seemingly “overnight” with a rapid change in behavior and mood and sudden appearance of severe anxiety. There is a sub-type of Pediatric OCD caused by an infection, such as strep throat, that confuses the child’s immune system into attacking the brain instead of the infection. This then causes the child to begin having severe symptoms of OCD, often seemingly overnight. The sudden appearance of symptoms is very different from general pediatric OCD, where symptoms appear more gradually.

This type of OCD is called Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcus (PANDAS) if it is a strep infection, or Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANS) if it is any other infection. Click here to learn more about PANDAS/PANS.

How is OCD different from other childhood routines?

It is common for children to have routines for meals, at bedtime, etc. OCD is different from these routines. Compulsions or rituals may become too frequent and/or too intense or upsetting for the child, and may begin to get in the way of their daily life.

OCD is not something a kid or teen can simply “snap out of.” The obsessions they suffer from and the compulsions they use to try to get rid of their bad feelings are often not easy to control.

It is important to remember that OCD is not a result of something that the child, parent, or others did wrong.

There is no “cure” for OCD, but OCD is very treatable with a type of therapy called exposure and response prevention (ERP) and medication. Your child or teen’s future success does not have to be limited by OCD!

 

An Ode To Schizophrenia

Taken from  NAMI  which is found   HERE.

I suppose all people who are affected by mental illness have that moment when “it” happens—the moment when their condition makes itself known. My moment happened when I was an undergraduate in college. It was in the form of voices, hallucinations and paranoid thoughts that one of my professors was trying to kill me.

I was scared and acted like it. I was in trouble, but I acted like everything was fine. My mind split, but it seemed to repair itself enough to get by. I learned one thing that proved to be true in the real world: When you struggle with an invisible disease, many won’t believe you. That realization hurt the most and still hurts to this day.

Many years after college, my father passed away on Jan. 2, 2007, due to natural causes, then my sister died the very next day in a car accident on her way to the funeral. I cannot express the pain and anguish that came over me.

The months that followed brought back all of the horrors of my collegiate break, but this one seemed much deeper. My mind split again, but this time there was no repair. I decided to get away from everyone, moving into a serene house in the woods with a pond and vocal wildlife. I loved to gaze at the moon and listen to an orchestra of fireflies and bullfrogs.

It was here that I took up art again. I was 12 years old when I first entered my own world of creation. I was a plasterer’s apprentice at the time, and I used construction materials to create works of art before I even knew they were works of art. I did a few “headstone portraits,” as I called them, using discarded sheetrock. Only my sister would ever see these works, as I would quickly and quietly throw them out. I did hide a few upstairs every now and then, but I always found that once I created a work, it stayed with me.

I cannot say when or why I decided to take art back up so many years later. One day, I bought canvas, brushes, knives and other materials and transformed the living room into a full studio. I did not fight the voices or hallucinations, as they were my partners in this new endeavor. I created things from my mind and from my pain, and with every piece, I got a little better. I eventually showed my work in various shows. I joined art clubs and art organizations. I began to socialize again. I started to feel alive again.

Then things took an unexpected turn. I was working on a book of poetry when my symptoms returned. It was the old fear returning again, and this time I was no match for it.

I attempted suicide but somehow managed to (I don’t exactly remember doing it) call a hotline number I had been given and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. I was admitted to a psych unit and was given meds and a caseworker. The therapy and the meds helped almost immediately, and after just four months I started to feel better.

In the year-and-a-half that has passed since that attempt, I have again rebuilt my life. I rejoined more art-based activities and became active in mental illness groups. I had known about NAMI for a long time but had wanted no part in it. Now, things are different. I am different.


                                     “Ode to Schizophrenia” by Steven Wilson

I had been approached by Capital Arts Board members and asked to be the featured artist for its Go Green Art Exhibit, which celebrated Mental Health Month as well as the environment. When they asked me, I sat in my chair for a few moments and thought it out. I felt myself shake my head a few times “no” before I said the word “yes.”

Over the next few days, I filled my allotted exhibit space and wrote a speech I was asked to give at the reception. The day of the reception came, and people trickled in. I walked around gathering what strength I could. After a few hours, the show director got everyone’s attention and I was in the spotlight. I took a few deep breaths and started my speech. The consensus was that the reception was a success, and the director received a lot of positive feedback about my speech in particular.

Maybe it was because I held nothing back: I spoke about my past in full bloom. I told them about the suicide attempt, the hospitalizations and the medications. I shared true stories about the works hung before them. I expressed how none of my successes would have been possible without the many people who helped me along the way. I told them who I am—who I really am.

My name is Steven. My diagnoses are schizophrenia, PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder. But I am not my diagnoses.

I am an artist. I am a human. I am.

 

Steven Wilson is an artist who works in visual and written form. His work has been seen in over 20 exhibitions. He is on the NAMI Jefferson City Board of Directors and is a member of the Missouri Writers’ Guild. Steven also orchestrated a booth for NAMI Jefferson City at Project Homeless in Jefferson City, which enables those less fortunate to gather information about NAMI and its programs. Visit him at www.stevenwilsonart.weebly.com

– See more at: http://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/December-2016/An-Ode-to-Schizophrenia#sthash.hHPYR5T2.dpuf

Temple Grandin: Too Much Screen Time has a Bad Effect on Child Development

Taken from Temple Grandin.com  which can be found  HERE.

At conferences, more and more parents of a recently diagnosed teen or elementary school child have told me that they may be on the autism spectrum.  In some cases, they have an official diagnoses and in other cases, they do not.  Almost all the parents who have been told they are on the autism spectrum have worked successfully in a variety of occupations. The question is: why was their life relatively successful and their child is now having problems with a lack of friends, bullying or is extremely hyper and anxious? In most of these cases, the child had no early childhood speech delay as a toddler.  When I was in college, I had friends that today would be labeled as having autism.

There may be two reasons why both these mildly autistic parents and my geeky classmates got and kept decent jobs.

  1. Learning how to work at a young age.  I have written extensively about this.
  2. In my generation, kids played outside with their peers and learned social interactions.  They were not glued to electronic screens.

In the September/October 2016 Carlat Report of Child Psychiatry, I read two articles that were a great “light bulb” moment.  One was written by Mary G. Burke, M.D., psychiatrist t the Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation in San Francisco and the other was an interview with Michael Robb, Ph.D. of Common Sense media. Dr. Burke explained that both babies and children need to engage with other people who react to their behavior.  The problem with watching endless videos is that the video does not react to the child’s responses.  Today, Michael Robb recommends no more than 10 hours of screen time a week until the kids are in high school.  This is the same rule my mother enforced for TV watching.

Electronic Device Free Times

Both specialists recommend that every family should have specific electronic device free times so they can interact and talk.  There should be at least one device free meal per day where both parents and children turn off and put all electronic devices away.  In her practice, Dr. Burke has observed that reducing use of electronics improves symptoms of OCD, panic attacks, and hyperactivity.  A report from The Centers of Disease Control reported that in a four-year period from 2003 to 2007, attention deficits increased 22%.
Children and families need times where they can interact without interruption from screens.  One study showed that a session of five days at an outdoor nature camp with no electronics improved the ability of middle school children in reading non-verbal social cues.  A farmer who ran a summer camp for 8 to 11-year-olds had an interesting observation.  During afternoon periods of free play in a walnut orchard, the boys sulked around for two days.  On the third day she said a switch flipped and they discovered free play.  My three recommendations are:

  1. Have one electronic device free meal where EVERYBODY including parents puts away all screens.
  2. Limit video watching, video games and other non-school screen time to 10 hours a week.
  3. Engage the entire family in activities where people have to interact with each other.

References

CDC Mobility Mortal Weekly Report (2010) (44):1439-1443. Increased 7.8% to 9.5% 2003-2007, 21.8% increase in four years.

Increasing prevalence of parent reported attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders among children, United States 2003-2007.

Uhls, Y.T. et al. (2014) Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues, Computers and Human Behavior, 39:387-392.

 

10-YEAR OLD AUTISTIC GIRL SINGS JAW-DROPPING CHRISTMAS VERSION OF LEONARD COHEN’S ‘HALLELUJAH’

The description below is taken from the video. I hope you are encouraged by what you hear. Merry Christmas!!  Allan

A 10-year-old girl who attends a special needs school in Co Down is being tipped for musical stardom after her Christmas performance of Hallelujah reduced adults to tears.

Kaylee Rogers, a pupil at Killard House School in Donaghadee, was chosen to sing a special biblical version of the Leonard Cohen classic for the school’s festive end-of-year shows. The primary seven pupil, who has moderate learning difficulties, gave an emotional performance of the song at three Christmas concerts, supported by Killard’s middle school choir.

 

A video of Kaylee’s rendition was also shown at a carol service at First Newtownards Presbyterian church, leaving many of the congregation in tears. It has since been uploaded on Facebook and has been shared up to 1,000 times so far.

Colin Millar, principal of Killard special school, which provides education for children with learning difficulties, speech and language difficulties and autism, said everyone who heard Kaylee sing was blown away by the power and the tone of her voice. And he said he believed she had a special gift which needed to be shared.

Speaking to Belfast Live, Mr Millar said: “Kaylee came to us in primary four and our music teacher, Lloyd Scates, who is a musician and has his own band, spotted her talent straight away.

“He got her to sing a few solos and she performed at the Easter and Harvest concerts, which helped her confidence to grow. Kaylee is a lovely child; she’s very quiet and shy, but when she opens her mouth to sing, something wonderful happens.

“She may only be a child but she has an amazing tone to her voice and when I heard her sing Hallelujah, I can honestly say the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and I had tears in my eyes.

“Kaylee was supposed to perform at a carol service at First Newtownards Presbyterian church at the weekend but was unfortunately ill. We showed the video of her singing instead and it’s fair to say there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

“I believe she has a very special gift which needs to be heard. Her voice is a complete joy.”

Killard school caters for around 200 children in total, aged between three and 16. Each year the school stages three different Christmas shows, according to age and this year, Kaylee was given the star role of singing Hallelujah at each of the three concerts.

Mr Millar said he hoped the Donaghadee girl went on to receive the right training to help her fulfil her potential as a performer.

“I’ve spoken to Kaylee’s mum and she’s keen to organise vocal coaching for her,” he said. “Kaylee has a special talent that needs to be harnessed and nurtured.

“She has the voice of an angel and I believe she could go very far.”

And he said he was proud of all the children involved.

“The whole production of Hallelujah is really beautiful and it’s just brilliant that these children, many of whom have learning difficulties and other issues, are bringing joy to other people with their singing.”

Bullying Changes Genes in Children’s DNA, Scientists Say

bully

Taken from  ABC News  which is located   HERE.  Originally posted in December, 2012.

New research shows that the chemical structure surrounding part of the genetic blueprint of a young child is physically changed by bullying, leaving the victim less able to respond properly to the stress and possibly paving the way for mental problems later in life.

The findings challenge the popular assumption that DNA is largely immutable, remaining basically unchanged throughout a person’s life.  But what does change, according to the research, is how one critical gene known to be involved in regulating mood is crippled, leaving the victim unable to deal with the stress.

“Bullying is a serious matter, not only on the short term consequences, but it also leaves kind of a physiological change that could affect (the victim’s) mental health later on,” Isabelle Ouellet-Morin of the University of Montreal, lead author of a study in the current issue of the journal Psychological Medicine, said in a telephone interview.

Overreacting to stress can be harmful, of course, but failing to react in a reasonable manner isn’t healthy either, she added.  Her previous research shows that “children who were bullied or maltreated showed less reactivity to stress and had more problems in social interaction and had more externalized problems, such as aggression.”

It’s normal to be angry when bullied, and failure to deal with that stress may be just as harmful as overreacting.

Ouellet-Morin and her colleagues found that the level of cortisol, the so-called stress hormone, was suppressed in children who had been bullied.  That reduction, she said, resulted in a change in the structure surrounding a gene that regulates serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation and depression.

The work is part of a growing body of research on epigenetics, a relatively new field that has challenged many beliefs on genetics.  That work shows that while genes themselves may remain largely unchanged, the way they are expressed — or what genes do for a living — can be profoundly influenced by the environments in which we live.

Nature vs. Nurture

It’s sort of a revival of the old nature-vs.-nurture debate. In this age of genetic advancement, nature has held the upper hand, but epigenetics adds a new twist — nurture, or our social interactions, may be an extremely important player in determining how our genes are expressed.

While the finding that bullying can influence DNA may be frightening, the research also suggests the possibility of reversing the damage.  It isn’t known yet whether the physiological changes from bullying are permanent.  It may be, she suggested, that dealing with bullying and nurturing the victims may reverse the damage.  But at this point, no one knows for sure.

Ouellet-Morin’s research is part of the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study in England, where she worked before returning to Montreal.  The researchers concentrated on 28 sets of identical twins from 2,232 British children in the overall study.  In all 28 cases, one twin had been bullied, but the other twin had not, according to the children, their mothers, and others.

DNA samples were collected at ages 5 and 10, and cortisol was measured at 5, 10 and 12.

The researchers found “blunted cortisol responses to stress in bullied twins in comparison with their non-bullied co-twins.” Thus, the victims were inhibited in having a normal reaction to the stress of being bullied.  That difference could not be attributed to genetic differences, because they were identical twins. Nor could it be blamed on different family environments, because both twins were raised in the same conditions.  The difference, the researchers concluded, came from changes in gene expression through epigenetics that left the victims less responsive to stress.

“The victims were not reacting physiologically to stress,” Ouellet-Morin said in the interview.  “The non-bullied twins showed the normal response, which is secreting the stress hormone while under stress.”  That failure to deal normally with the stress could have left them less resilient, and more prone to mental and social problems, she suggested.

The researchers conclude that the difference resulted entirely from bullying.

“This hypothesis is consistent with accumulating evidence, mainly derived from animal studies, showing that epigenetic remodeling represents a mechanism by which adverse experiences disrupt reactivity to stress and health,” the study adds.

The bottom line here is that bullying must be taken very seriously, she said, but there is reason to hope that the effect doesn’t have to be permanent.

“If we accept the idea suggested by this study,” she said, “that social environment can change DNA manipulation that is important for stress reactivity and mood regulation, then if we change that environment, if we make sure the victims are not victimized anymore, or if we give them the proper resources to cope better with the situation and get on with their lives, then we have the possibility of reversing what we are observing right now.”

Maybe there is light at the end of this very dark tunnel.