Tag Archives: disorder

Emotional Impact of the Separation of Children and Parents at the US Border

On June 20, 2018, the American Psychiatric Association (of which I am an Assembly Member) and 17 other mental health organizations joined forces in a letter to the Departments of Justice, of Homeland Security and of Health and Human Services, urging the administration of President Donald Trump to end its policy of separation of children from their parents at the United States border.

The letter states that “children are dependent on their parents for safety and support. Any forced separation is highly stressful for children and can cause lifelong trauma, as well as an increased risk of other mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition, the longer that children and parents are separated, the greater the reported symptoms of anxiety and depression for the children.”1

The separation and detention of minors is a human rights crisis

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child emphasizes the importance of considering “the best interests of the child.”2 These interests include:

  • Protection against discrimination
  • Safety
  • Wellbeing
  • Health
  • Ensuring to the maximum extent possible the child’s survival and development
  • Preservation of the child’s identity
  • Family integrity
  • Protection against the separation from parents against the child’s will
  • Free expression of ideas
  • Freedom
  • Education

The separation of children from their families and their detention under inhumane and deplorable conditions are in direct opposition to all these interests.

The emotional impact of the separation

The negative effects, both physical and emotional, on the children separated from their parents may not be apparent for many years and some may be irreversible.

The short-term emotional effects include:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Behavioral problems
  • Irritability
  • Sleeping problems
  • Changes in appetite
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
  • Poor self-care
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors

The long-term emotional sequelae can be reflected in:

  • Developmental delay
  • Poor psychological adjustment
  • Poor school performance
  • Regressive behavior
  • Aggression
  • Increased vulnerability to physical illness
  • Alcohol and drug use

Studies show that no matter how brief the detention, it may cause severe and long-term psychological trauma and increase the risk of mental disorders.3

Parents may also be affected due to the uncertainty of what may be happening to their child, which may manifest itself in:

  • Increase in physical and emotional problems
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Difficulty in their relationships
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors

What is Attachment?

Attachment is the bond between the child and his parents, which plays a fundamental role in the social and emotional development of the child. Adequate attachment fosters feelings of security in the child. Poor attachment can make the child grow insecure, with separation anxiety, self-esteem problems, trust issues, behavioral problems, and even extreme dependence on others.

The relationship between parents and children can continue to be affected even after being reunited, which may be manifested in:

  • Attachment problems
  • Reduction in parental authority
  • Poor parent-child relationship
  • Difficulties in child rearing

How can we prevent these negative effects?

  • Putting a stop to the separation of families and to the inhumane conditions in the detention centers. The separation of a parent from a child should never occur, unless there are concerns for the safety of the child at the hands of his/her parent.
  • Early detection of symptoms through mental health assessments and periodic reevaluations (especially when symptoms may arise later as the separation or detention persists).
  • Coordination of services:
      o Physical health
      o Mental health
      o Legal
      o Interpretation in the child’s primary language
  • Psychotherapy and counseling can help the children and their parents to deal with their feelings or negative thoughts, identify stressors, and strengthen coping skills. Therapy can assist in processing emotions and offer support and hope.
  • Psychiatric medications may also control symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or any other mental health condition.
  • Finally, there should be no shame in seeking help, which can improve the lives of the child and his/her family.


Be Smart. Be Safe. Be Healthy. Be Strong.

Until next time!

Dr. Felix


1American Psychiatric Association. (2018, June 20). Mental health organizations urge administration to halt policy separating children and parents at U.S. border. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/newsroom/news-releases/mental-health-organizations-urge-administration-to-halt-policy-separating-children-and-parents-at-u-s-border/

2United Nations. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx/

3Linton, J.M., Griffin, M., Shapiro, A.J. (2017, March). Detention of immigrant children. American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2017/03/09/peds.2017-0483.full.pdf

Simply Irresistible? – Impulse Control Disorders

Luis Suárez, soccer player with the Uruguay National Team representing his country at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, has recently gained some notoriety. Not so much for his abilities as a soccer player but for the bite seen around the world. And this is reportedly the third time in his career when he has bitten an opponent on the field. The unsportsmanlike behavior has left many soccer enthusiasts wondering, what is wrong with Suárez?

One of the mental health diagnoses being thrown around by sports commentators, and even mental health experts, has been that of impulse control disorder. While displaying aggression at the height of a stressful event, like biting another human being, may be characteristic of a lack of impulse control, making a diagnosis without evaluating a person, whether a public figure or not, is neither responsible nor ethical. But since the topic has been on the news, I think it is important to have a discussion about impulse control disorders, how they manifest, and how to treat them.

First of all, impulse control disorder is not an actual diagnosis recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Together with disruptive and conduct disorders, they describe a set of different diagnoses characterized by “problems in the self-control of emotions and behaviors,”1 which include oppositional defiant disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder, pyromania, and kleptomania. These disorders involve the violation of the rights of others and/or “bring the individual into significant conflict with societal norms or authority figures.”2 They tend to be more common in males than females, initially manifest in childhood or early teenage years, and are generally rare.

Here is a brief overview of these disorders, all of which must cause distress in the individual or impairment in his/her level of functioning:

Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Usually begins in preschool years.

How common: About 3.3%.3

Signs/Symptoms: Frequent loss of temper, anger/resentfulness, arguments with authority figures, defiance of rules, blaming others for mistakes/misbehavior, vindictiveness.

Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Usually begins in late childhood or adolescence.

How common: About 2.7%.4

Signs/Symptoms: Behavioral outbursts characterized by a failure to control aggressive impulses and manifested through verbal aggression, damage/destruction of property, or physical injury against others/animals. The outbursts cannot be premeditated and are grossly out of proportion to any provocation or stressor.

Conduct Disorder

Usually begins in mid-childhood to mid-adolescence.

How common: About 4%.5

Signs/Symptoms: Violation of the rights of others or society norms/rules manifested by bullying/intimidation of others, use of a weapon that can cause serious harm, physical cruelty towards people or animals, destruction of property, deceitfulness, theft, and serious violations of rules.

Antisocial Personality Disorder

Never diagnosed before age 18 but symptoms of conduct disorder must be present before age 15.

How common: 0.2 to 3.3%.6

Signs/Symptoms: “Pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others”7 manifested by unlawful behavior, deceitfulness, impulsivity, irritability/aggressiveness, reckless disregard for safety, consistent irresponsibility, and lack of remorse.


Insufficient data to determine when it usually begins.

How common: Not known.

Signs/Symptoms: Deliberate fire-setting; tension before the act followed by pleasure, gratification or relief once a fire is set; and fascination/attraction to fire.


Variable age of onset.

How common: 0.3 to 0.6%8; females outnumber males 3 to 1.

Signs/Symptoms: Failure to resist impulses to steal things that are not needed for personal use or for their value; tension before the act followed by pleasure, gratification or relief once the theft is committed.

Other Disruptive, Impulse-Control and Conduct Disorders

Presentations in which symptoms of emotional or behavioral dysregulation cause clinically significant distress or impairment to the individual but that do not meet full criteria for any of the disorders above.

How are these disorders treated?

Impulse control disorders may be treated with therapy and/or medications. Early detection and intervention are important, especially when some of these disorders may bring the person in contact with the legal system. A mental health expert may evaluate the individual’s history and current presentation to determine the presence of a disorder and to establish the best treatment plan. There are different behavioral therapies that have proven effective for the management of these disorders and which should only be performed by a licensed provider.

We may not know what, if anything, is wrong with Suárez, but at least his behavior has given us the opportunity to talk about these important topics while the world is watching.


Be Smart. Be Safe. Be Healthy. Be Strong.

Until next time!

Dr. Felix

The Dangers of Molly

“Molly” has been recently popularized in songs by Miley Cyrus and Kanye West. With lyrics like, “We like to party / Dancing with Molly / Doing whatever we want” [We Can’t Stop] and “Let’s take it back to the first party / When you tried your first molly / And came out of your body” [Blood on the Leaves], the use of the drug “Molly” has been praised and glamorized.

But, what is Molly?

Molly is a pure form of MDMA, or 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine by its chemical name. MDMA is one of the ingredients of another popular drug, Ecstasy (which may be mixed with caffeine, LSD, speed, ketamine, talcum powder, and aspirin). Regardless of its composition, ingestion of MDMA can be dangerous and even fatal.

MDMA was first synthesized by the German pharmaceutical company Merck in 1912. It was used in the late 1970s, without the approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as an aid in psychotherapy and marital counseling. As of 1985, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has categorized MDMA as a Schedule I controlled substance due to its high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use in treatment.

MDMA is similar to the stimulant amphetamine and the hallucinogen mescaline. Taken orally in tablet or capsule form or snorted as a powder, MDMA produces an energy rush, elevated mood or euphoria, distorted perceptions, and heightened feelings of empathy. These “desired” effects are what drive people, mainly teenagers and young adults in the club and rave scene, to try and even abuse the drug, at times not fully aware of the dangers, both short- and long-term.

The number of emergency room visits related to MDMA use has more than doubled in the last 7 years. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Drug Abuse Warning Network report of 20111, there were an estimated 22,498 emergency room visits (compared to 10,227 in 2004). And the numbers keep rising…

MDMA causes a release of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), including dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. The massive release of serotonin as well as its eventual depletion lead to the negative effects of the substance, as detailed below:

Central Nervous System Effects:

  • Altered mental status (confusion)
  • Hyperactivity, restlessness
  • Seizures
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Blurred vision
  • Hallucinations
  • Intracranial hemorrhage
  • Stroke

Cardiovascular Effects:

  • Tachycardia (increased heart rate)
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Chest pain
  • Fatal arrhythmia
  • Heart failure (risk increased in individuals with pre-existing cardiac disease)

Gastrointestinal Effects:

  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Loss of appetite

Respiratory Effects:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Respiratory failure
  • Aspiration (inhaling vomit)

Other Signs and Symptoms:

  • Dehydration
  • Excessive thirst
  • Profuse sweating
  • Teeth grinding
  • Jaw clenching
  • Muscle spasm

MDMA toxicity may also lead to the potentially fatal Serotonin Syndrome, causing:

  • Hyperthermia (dangerously high fever)
  • Altered mental status (confusion)
  • Heart rate and blood pressure abnormalities
  • Muscle rigidity (tightness)
  • Death

Increased water intake (from heat and thirst) as well as the excessive sweating from physical exertion (dancing often in crowded and hot conditions) may lead to hyponatremia (low sodium levels). Severe hyponatremia may result in brain swelling, seizures, and death.

Most MDMA-related fatalities are attributed to symptoms of heat stroke and hyperthermia. Other causes include: dehydration, rhabdomyolysis (excessive muscle breakdown), acute kidney failure, electrolyte imbalance, cardiac arrhythmias, and stroke.

It is important to be aware of the effects of this potentially fatal drug. As if these effects were not of enough concern, MDMA may be used in the club/rave scene together with other drugs and/or alcohol, leading to a possibly fatal combination.

Beware of the several names used for MDMA, including: Molly, Mandy, Ecstasy, E, XTC, X, Adam, Clarity, Lover’s Speed, Roll, MD, Mad Dog, among others.


Be Smart. Be Safe. Be Healthy. Be Strong.

Until next time!

Dr. Felix

Teen Suicide

Suicide is one of our society’s epidemics. According to the latest data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide represented the tenth leading cause of death in the United States in 2009. If this were not alarming enough, suicide is the third leading cause of death among our teenagers.

Recognition of warning signs, early intervention, and immediately seeking help for anyone who expresses thoughts of suicide or attempts suicide are of great importance.


Adolescence is an extremely stressful period in our development. The transition between childhood and adulthood is marked by enormous changes: hormonal, physical, mental, and emotional. The stress caused by these changes can have a significant impact on the teenager’s life.

Some stressors include:

  • Normal developmental changes
  • Painful events
  • Family dysfunction
  • Physical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • School problems or bullying
  • Problems with boyfriend/girlfriend
  • Sexual orientation
  • Mental illness
These stressful factors can be very overwhelming, too embarrassing, or too difficult to overcome for some teenagers. Suicide may erroneously seem like the answer to end their problems and/or internal suffering.


Many warning signs for suicidal behavior are similar to symptoms of depression:

  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Behavioral changes
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in appetite
  • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities (hanging out with friends, video games)
  • Poor hygiene
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Isolation from friends and family
  • Giving away or throwing out objects of personal value
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Suddenly recovering from a period of depression (maybe after having decided to put an end to their suffering by ending their life)
  • Talk/verbal threats of suicide
Even in the presence of all these warning signs, it is extremely difficult to predict with certainty who will attempt suicide. We do know that the most important risk factor for the prediction of suicide is past suicidal behavior. In other words, a past suicide attempt is the best predictor of a future suicidal act.


It is important to recognize the above warning signs. Early intervention is the most effective way to prevent suicide among our children.

Any statement of suicidal thoughts or suicidal behavior must be taken seriously. Anyone who expresses thoughts of suicide requires immediate medical evaluation.

Other recommendations include:

  • Maintaining an open communication with our children
  • Making our children feel comfortable to talk to us about their problems/feelings
  • Supporting our children
  • Keeping medications and firearms away from children


The effects of suicide on the family can be devastating. People who lose a loved one to suicide tend to feel guilty for the death of their family member, wonder what they could have done to prevent it, or even feel rejected by other family members or friends.

Suicide survivors may experience:

  • Sadness for their loss
  • Anger towards the deceased family member
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder, especially when witness to the suicide or finding the family member after a completed suicide
  • Suicide attempts to reconnect with their lost loved one

As the aftermath of family suicide may have long lasting effects, it is important for survivors of suicide to seek help in dealing with their loss.


Anyone who expresses thoughts of suicide or attempts suicide should be evaluated immediately:

  • Call 911
  • Take the person to the nearest emergency room, or
  • Look for help from a mental health professional

Psychotherapy and counseling can help the suicidal person deal with his/her feelings or negative thoughts, identify stressors, and strengthen coping skills. Psychiatric medications may also control symptoms of depression, anxiety or any other mental health condition.

Help is also available through telephone hotlines. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255) is an excellent source of support. It is for people in crisis, not just when thinking about suicide. The call is free and confidential and a mental health professional will be available to listen and provide information about mental health services in your community.


Be Smart. Be Safe. Be Healthy. Be Strong.

Until next time!

Dr. Felix

To Take, or Not To Take: That is the Question… Medications for Psychiatric Illness

My psychiatrist wants me to take this medication. What should I do?

The term psychotropic, a way to describe medications used for the treatment of mental conditions, means that the medication affects or alters the activity of the brain. While the words affect and alter tend to have a negative connotation, the changes that occur in the brain from its exposure to these medications can have beneficial and long-lasting effects on your mental condition. They are used to treat mood, anxiety, psychosis, and many other psychiatric disorders.

Being honest with your psychiatrist about your symptoms is extremely important. While your primary doctor may diagnose your high blood pressure or diabetes by checking your blood pressure or blood sugar levels, psychiatry is limited in the amount of actual tests that we can perform. Some reversible causes of depression may be detected in the blood (for example, certain vitamin deficiencies or thyroid dysfunction) but the bulk of the diagnoses made in psychiatry require a careful examination of your clinical symptoms by a trained mental health professional. Being frank and open about your symptoms will allow your psychiatrist to diagnose you with the correct mental health condition and prescribe you the right course of treatment.

All medications, regardless of the condition they are intended to treat, are foreign substances to your body. This means that side effects may occur. Prior to starting a new medication, it is important to have a discussion with your psychiatrist about the most common side effects of the proposed treatment. Some may be slightly bothersome but temporary; your body’s reaction to the new substance flowing through your system. Other adverse effects may be longer-lasting and may lead to permanent changes.

Most psychotropic medications, like those used to treat depression and anxiety, are what we call “maintenance medications.” They do not work like the Tylenol or Motrin that you reach for when you have a headache and expect to relieve your pain within an hour or two. Maintenance medications must be taken on a daily basis, preferably around the same time every day, and as prescribed by your doctor. Over the first weeks of treatment, the medication will slowly build up to a therapeutic level in your bloodstream, allowing it to reach its full potential. Your doctor may choose to “start low and go slow” with the dose, letting the medication reach that therapeutic or effective level over some time. This approach will minimize possible adverse effects and ensure you end up on the right dose. In other words, the medication may take some time to fully work but it will prevent you from taking more medication than needed in the long term.

Taking your psychotropic medication on a consistent basis will allow you to improve sooner. Taking these types of medication “only when I am down or anxious” or “as needed” may not only prolong the duration of your symptoms but may also cause you to experience side effects from the constant re-exposure to the medication. And just because you are feeling better does not mean it is time to stop the medication. I always tell my patients to treat the psychotropic medication I prescribe as they would an antibiotic. What does your primary doctor tell you?: “Finish all your antibiotics as prescribed.” Prematurely ending a course of treatment with psychotropic medications may lead to inadequate treatment response, return of your symptoms, and even withdrawal symptoms from abruptly stopping the medication.

Your psychiatrist may decide to continue your medication for depression or anxiety some months past your return to baseline. This will guarantee that the brain chemistry imbalance causing your condition is adequately managed and addressed. Your doctor may then slowly decrease the dose, monitoring you for continued stability and any possible withdrawal symptoms. Other medications, for example those used for psychosis in schizophrenia or for mood stabilization in bipolar disorder, may require long-term treatment.

And what are withdrawal symptoms? Does this mean I am addicted to the medication? Remember, psychotropic medications alter the functioning of your brain with the goal of improving whatever symptoms that are affecting you. Addiction does occur with some psychiatric medications, especially with benzos like Valium and Xanax used for the treatment of anxiety. But other medications, like antidepressants, require a dose decrease prior to discontinuation to make certain those areas of your body that were sensitized by the medication are slowly “weaned” off it.

Finally, psychotropic medications are not for everyone. Your psychiatrist may decide that a course of psychotherapy and/or counseling may be more appropriate at first. Your doctor may also prescribe medication in conjunction with psychotherapy. Whatever the decision, remember that it will be based on the information gathered along your treatment. And in the case of your relationship with your psychiatrist… Honesty IS the best policy!

Be Smart. Be Safe. Be Healthy. Be Strong.

Until next time!

Dr. Felix

PTSD and Response to Traumatic Events in the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombings, Sandy Hook and Other Recent Tragedies

Following recent traumatic events, such as the Boston Marathon bombings, the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, and other tragedies in the United States and around the world, it is imperative to address the importance of early recognition and treatment of acute and posttraumatic stress disorders.

Acute stress disorder (ASD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may arise after direct exposure to a traumatic event, actual or threatened death of a family member or close friend, or repeated exposure to details about a traumatic event (1). Symptoms of ASD and PTSD are fairly similar and the distinction is largely based on the time frame to the beginning and duration of symptoms. Symptoms related to ASD last up to four weeks and must arise within one month of exposure to the traumatic event. In PTSD, the duration of symptoms is beyond 30 days. While your repeated exposure to details of a traumatic event from media coverage is not considered a cause of ASD and PTSD, the impact of graphic and violent images may affect people in different ways and may lead to temporary mood changes or worsen any pre-existing depressive or anxiety disorders.

The lifetime prevalence of PTSD in the United States adult population is estimated to be 6.8% (2). Women may be up to three times more likely to develop PTSD than men. Risk factors to develop PTSD, in addition to exposure to a traumatic event, include: being a female, having other mental illnesses (like depression and anxiety), having a family history of psychiatric illness, being a victim of abuse, or having a poor support system.

The following are key symptoms of PTSD but this condition may affect you in many different ways. Symptoms may also become severe enough to the point that they affect your day-to-day life and functioning.

Flashbacks or intrusive thoughts about the trauma

Nightmares or recurring dreams (about the trauma or with related themes)

Avoidance of memories or outside cues that remind you of the trauma (for example: blocking memories, avoiding conversations about the trauma, or driving the long way home to avoid the intersection where your car accident occurred)


Being easily frightened or startled

Sleep problems

Difficulty concentrating

Irritability or anger

Survivor’s guilt

Social isolation


Loss of interest in pleasurable activities

Feelings of detachment or numbness

Inability to fully express your emotions

Mistrust of others

Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts

Early intervention following a traumatic event is important. For some people, talking about it with a family member or friend (“getting it off your chest”) may be enough. Others may need longer treatment with therapy and even medication.

Talk about your feelings: How safe do I feel? How has the trauma affected me? Am I afraid to leave the house? Am I self-medicating with drugs or alcohol? Why is my family so worried? What can I do?

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255) is an excellent source of support. It is for people in crisis, not just if you are thinking of ending your life. When you dial Lifeline, your call is routed to the crisis center closest to your location. The call is free and confidential. Someone will be there to listen to you and to provide you with information on mental health services in your community.

Remember, there is no shame in seeking help. We all need a little push every now and then.

Be Smart. Be Safe. Be Healthy. Be Strong.

Until next time!

Dr. Felix