Tag Archives: stress

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

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

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