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Series of robberies linked to increase in traffic

By: Nancy Flake , Courier staff

SOUTH COUNTY - The one link among a rash of armed robberies this week in south Montgomery County appears to be the increase of traffic between Houston and the area, according to law enforcement officials.

As The Woodlands and south county become an increasing part of the Houston metropolitan area, residents will endure an increase in such crimes.

Four separate armed robberies occurred at south county businesses Tuesday through Thursday, and investigators have few leads. The suspects in each incident are different, and none of the businesses involved is connected in any way.

The first incident occurred at a fast-food restaurant Tuesday on Rayford Road. Hours later, assailants attempted to rob customers in a grocery store parking lot across Interstate 45.

The next day, a lone gunman demanded, and got, money from a teller at a bank at Woodlands Parkway and Kuykendahl Road. Then on Thursday, two armed men held two convenience store clerks at gunpoint as they robbed the cash register on Glen Loch Drive.

All the suspects fled on foot and remain at large.

The time of year isn't even a telling factor in the cases, according to Lt. Dan Norris, of the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department.

"I've tended to notice they reduce after the holidays and go up during the holidays," he said. "Our holiday season this year was much calmer than usual, and they went up after the holidays."

Four armed robberies in one area in one week is "not that common," Norris said.

But, "anything's possible," he said. "They tend to average out. It's generally unusual for that area, but there's the proximity to the interstate and the Houston area. Look at the population and the number of stores."

Progress can be considered a culprit in more crime. The widening of Interstate 45 in recent years in south county, and the more recent completion of Woodlands Parkway to FM 2978, crossing Kuykendahl Road along the way, gives criminals more and better ways into The Woodlands from the Houston area.

"The more access into this area from the Houston area will cause more people to drive here," Norris said. "It raises the ratio where bad guys will come in."

The Woodlands also has a higher income level than most regions of the metropolitan area, which is a big draw to criminals.

"It's a rich area," Norris said. "South Montgomery County is a relatively safe area compared to so many similar areas in the state, but serious crimes can and will occur."

The economic status of many south county residents does bring in the criminals, noted Oak Ridge North Police Chief Andy Walters.

"We have noticed over the past year or so we seem to be attracting more of that kind of element from Houston," he said. "We're just becoming more well-known to those types of people. If you're going to steal a nice car, where are you going to go?"

Walters said he and his officers have noticed that motor-vehicle burglaries and thefts often seem to involve the same group of people.

"They're just coming back," he said. "It's probably a group; there's stuff up here in The Woodlands, and they're coming up to get it."

Unfortunately, it may take a higher level of cynicism - and awareness - for south county residents to realize that their homes and businesses are being targeted.

"We're still an 'innocent area,'" Walters said. "People are more trusting up here, so we make easier targets."

Consumers backed up Walters' worries Friday afternoon, as the armed robberies seemed to have minimal impact on awareness, safety and habits. Several customers in the H-E-B parking lot in the Village of Indian Springs Shopping Center where the bank robbery occurred Tuesday said they make little attempt to be extra cautious in public areas.

"No, not really," said Hank, a Woodlands resident who asked that he only be referred to by his first name, "only if I have my children with me."

Heari Kam, a young woman, said she heeds the advice of friends.

"I guess I take some extra precautions because I'm usually alone," she said. "You know, I don't unlock my car door before I'm there. But you'd think The Woodlands would be safer than Houston, for example."

In Thursday night's armed robbery, two armed men, both wearing masks, allegedly held two clerks of a convenience store at gunpoint and took off with an undetermined amount of money from the cash register.

Montgomery County Sheriff's deputies responded to the Super K convenience store in the 27000 block of Glen Loch Drive around 10 p.m. after the men allegedly robbed the store and took off on foot, Norris said.

Store clerks told officers that the suspects are black males; the first one was described as 6 feet 1 inch tall and wearing a red coat and hat. The second one was 5 feet 3 inches tall and wearing a black jacket.

"Both had some sort of masks on," Norris said. He could not elaborate about what kind of masks the men were wearing.

One of the men was brandishing a handgun during the robbery, according to Norris.

"As soon as they robbed the store, they fled on foot," he said. "A search by officers turned up nothing."

In another incident, an attempted armed robbery took place at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday in the parking lot of the H-E-B store at Interstate 45 and Sawdust Road, when three suspects, described as white males, pointed a sawed-off shotgun at a couple of customers. But, the robbers were unsuccessful.

"They got nothing," Norris said.

No one was injured in either incident.

There appears to be no connection, Norris said, between either of those incidents and two other armed robberies, one the same day of the attempted robbery at the H-E-B store. Hours earlier, a robber entered the McDonald's restaurant at Rayford Road and Interstate 45 about 5:30 a.m. through an unlocked service door and confronted the manager at gunpoint, demanding money.

The manager turned over an undetermined amount of money, and the man fled the area on foot toward the Imperial Chase Apartments, according to Norris. The suspect is described as a black male about 6 feet tall and weighing 200 pounds, wearing a blue T-shirt, jeans and a bandana. No one was injured in the incident.

And on Wednesday afternoon, a man wearing a stocking over his head and brandishing a gun robbed the Bank One branch at the intersection of Kuykendahl and Woodlands Parkway in the Village of Indian Springs Shopping Center shortly after 1:30 p.m.

The man, who had a long-barreled pistol, demanded money from a teller, got some cash and then fled the scene on foot. He was described as a white or Hispanic male, approximately 5 feet 8 inches tall with dark hair, wearing gloves, a blue denim shirt and blue jeans.

In each of these crimes, "Investigators are working very hard on what few leads they have," Norris said.

The increase in crime eventually may start to raise awareness.

Tommy Sias, an employee at Hewitt who lives in Magnolia, was at the Exxon gas station on Research Forest Drive Friday afternoon. He said the robberies in The Woodlands and several cases of a police imposter in the Magnolia area had put him on the defensive.

"I pay attention to everything," he said. "I'm always careful. You gotta be, these days."

Sias added that he tries to avoid looking like a target by not paying with cash.

"I always try to pay at the pump," he said.

Anyone with information is urged to call Montgomery County Crime Stoppers at (800) 392-STOP. All callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for reward of up to $1,000 if information leads to an arrest or indictment of the person or people responsible.

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  • 4 weeks later...


Series on Depression - Part I

By: Donna Wick , Villager staff

Mental illness a major problem throughout Montgomery County

Like a residential toxic mold that spews spores so subtlety they are hardly detectable until they have affected the inhabitants of the dwelling in an oozing physical way, mental illness looms dark in Montgomery County.

Is it possible the halcyon environment created by lush landscaping, robust business and the appearance of unmitigated affluence eclipses growing statistics regarding mental illness in the county?

Or maybe it's the stress to perform, achieve and succeed that is driving many residents to the doctor in search of the magic pill that will afford them an inner calmness and serenity without having to, in any way, augment their fevered pace of life.

Area teens also seem to find it difficult to cope with the stress, pressures and influences that barrage them daily, sometimes leading them to feelings of hopelessness, despair and isolation.

The statistics are difficult to ignore.

Regardless of external affirmation, teen suicide and depression, along with adult suicide and depression, have become a threat to the lives of many in the community.

Most would never know of its existence, save for those desperately trying to find solutions and remedies for their loved ones affected.

The reason for this false sense of overall well-being is a mix between denial, stigma, isolation and unknowing.

According to the American Association of Suicidology in Washington, D.C., suicide rates are on the increase after a six-year decline prior to 2001. On average, one person every 16.6 minutes dies by suicide. More alarming, on average one young person between the ages of 15 and 24, dies every two hours and 11 minutes by suicide. Suicide ranks 11th in the cause of death in the United States and is the third ranking cause of death for the young. With each suicide attempt, at least six other family members are intimately affected. Moreover, for every confirmed suicide between the ages of 15 and 24, there are at least 100 to 200 attempted suicides nationwide.

To bring these statistics closer to view, there are more people who will die of suicide this month than the current death toll in the American warfare coalition in Iraq.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, in Montgomery County specifically, the mental health population ages 18 and over indicates 23 percent, approximately 54,000 people, are affected by mental illness thus: 1 percent schizophrenia, 1 percent bipolar disorder, 2 percent anxiety, 2 percent lifetime dysthymia, 3 percent major depression, 7 percent phobia and 7 percent other impairment.

In children up to age 17, approximately 20,000 are affected.

"There are an astounding number of prescriptions being written for anti-depressants in our area," said Dr. Mila McManus, a Board Certified Family Physician and founder of The Woodlands Institute for Health and Wellness.

"The misnomer in The Woodlands is that everyone is rich, happy and content. Some can't conceive how people in The Woodlands could be depressed. But there is such a high level of stress in our area in both adults and teens.

"There is a growing number of marital problems, infidelity issues, and many homes where one spouse travels frequently leaving the other spouse to take on all aspects of parenting and otherwise life management for the household.

Teens are similarly affected in the high expectation of academic and athletic achievement while also feeling pressured by their peers. These are the reasons that have propagated five to 10 new patients a day to my office complaining of depression-like symptoms."

The growing trend in the number of cases that fall under the immense umbrella of "mental illness" in the county continue.

"One in four people are depressed," said Dr. Robert Weinberger, a Woodlands psychiatrist and founder of National Parents' Network.

"Adults and teens today are having a harder time coping and they have enormous pressures. For teens, school is harder and there is a higher expectation of them in both their scholastic and athletic achievements. Peer pressure is incredibly difficult for some of these kids to deal with. They are also harder for parents to monitor with cell phones, chat rooms etc.

"What I find interesting is that you can go into some of the larger homes in The Woodlands and find a plasma screen TV and a computer in every room of the house just about, but there are no books displayed, no free space to just sit and be with oneself."

Area psychologists, therapists and psychiatrists agree that stress is a common denominator in the depression cases they see.

Are people trying too hard to keep up with the Joneses? Is the family out of control with too many activities that there is no "quality family time" left at the end of the day?

"There are many causes for depression, but they can be grouped into two major groups: genetic predisposition and excess stress," said Joe Wise, a psychotherapist at The Woodlands Family Institute. "Most every other cause can be grouped in one of these two categories.

"In the case of excess stress, the problem is more pervasive than people realize. Stress puts an increased pressure on the brain and can't function basically. It can't produce enough serotonin and if a person stays in high stress, what little serotonin is produced is depleted.

"Unfortunately, we cannot live life without stress and actually some stress is helpful. Some stress motivates us to be on time and function in our daily lives. The stress that is harmful is the stress we seem to have little control over."

Wise said stress factors that lead to depression include job related stress: a bad boss, having more to do than you can possibly achieve, or feeling like you have more demands than you can keep up with; financial pressure: keeping up with the Joneses, buying more expensive homes, cars, clothes etc than one can really afford; debt: looming credit card bills to pay each month; driving: the trip into Houston everyday is often congested with traffic and sometimes just getting out of The Woodlands can be stressful; and the use of drugs: whether it be caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, cocaine or otherwise, these can also induce great stress.

Stress and genetic predisposition may be determinants for depression, but for some there are other factors that can manifest the same symptoms and can be treated altogether different.

"Depression can be something other than a chemical imbalance in the brain to a hormonal imbalance that in itself can lead to stress, which can eventually lead to depression if untreated," said McManus, whose practice has set itself apart from any other in The Woodlands by making house calls to patients wanting dedicated time and attention from their physician.

"The reason for opening the health and wellness institute was to look at a person holistically instead of writing a prescription based on a patient's brief description of what they are feeling and experiencing."

The case for growing depression can be made easily with statistics and information from local authorities, but what does one do? If they don't choose to repaint and deny the problem altogether, where then do they go for help, assistance and/or treatment?

"What is interesting to note is that there is no mental health facility in Montgomery County per se, like there is in Fort Bend County or Harris County," Weinberger said. "There needs to be more community awareness and access to care."

As alarming as the numbers are that clearly demonstrate the growing trend of mental illness in Montgomery County, the availability of care in treatment and support is hard to find.

"Montgomery County does not have a mental health association," said Dr. Steven Farber, author and cardiologist who twice served as Chairman of the Department of Cardiology and is currently Chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine at Conroe Regional Medical Center, as well as founder and president of Heart of Montgomery County.

Heart of Montgomery County was formed to promote the delivery of responsibly managed quality healthcare for all segments of the population, while emphasizing preventative methods and wellness programs.

"Our mental health task force has ascertained the factors that lead toward depression and suicide. We have identified factors that lead teens toward depression and suicide.

Inherent in both are coping skills or rather, lack of coping skills. We have parents, adults, who do not have proper coping mechanisms in place. Trickling to teenagers, they, by product of their environment, also do not have proper coping skills. Instead, both segments reach for either legal caffeine or illegal substances or both.

It's no wonder why Montgomery County has the leading suicide rate :o in the state of Texas."

It is Farber's goal to provide Montgomery County with the tools, information and resources necessary for the proper treatment of any and all illnesses.

"There needs to be more community awareness and education about mental illness, depression, suicide and substance abuse in our county," he said. "That is what Heart of Montgomery County is affording our community."

For all those in the community who are working on various aspects of mental illness and treatment, Heart of Montgomery County looks to unify these groups under their Mental Health Task Force. It is hoped that one day a collaborative effort between all the groups will exist and eventually serve as a "go to" place for assistance, information and resources.

"The Mental Health Task Force brings all the groups together with input from those who are working diligently with mental illness in Montgomery County like Judge (Edie) Connelly, Justice of the Peace Precinct 3, and Dr. Don Stockton, Superintendent of CISD, as well as so many others, so as to provide information and treatment to the community," said Jeanne Knapp, the executive director and vice president of the Board for Heart of Montgomery County.

Heart of Montgomery County has amassed an impressive board, steering committee and advisory board that includes Dr. Thomas Butler, president of Montgomery College, as well as Jim McIngvale (Mattress Mac), cofounder and owner of Gallery Furniture in Houston and Rob Mosbacher, previous candidate for mayor of Houston in 1997 and president of Mosbacher Energy Company, in addition to distinguished others that read like the Who's Who of Montgomery County.

"It's more than heartbreaking when a child commits suicide," Farber said. "It's so hard to understand how they could feel so hopeless when they have their whole life in front of them.

"I've had an experience when a teenager I knew committed suicide because of a breakup with his girlfriend. Not only did this severely affect our family and my son, who knew this person well, but I can only imagine the guilt the girlfriend must have suffered, probably to this day. One can only go through the litany of questions: 'Why did he do this?' 'Why didn't he reach out to someone for help?' and 'What could I have done to prevent this?'"

Wise said in a survey conducted with teens whose suicide attempts have been thwarted, there were two overriding factors that contributed to their suicide attempt.

"Teenagers who have tried to commit suicide, but were not successful report two determinants that played pivotal roles in their decision to end their life, namely: a sense of hopelessness and a lack of connection -- feeling isolated," he said. "Kids either felt that there was no hope of anything ever becoming better for them, (or they) felt like they were alone, not connected to their friends or family."

This certainly speaks to why kids don't reach out. They do not feel a connection to their family, friends, teachers, counselors or otherwise peers as support structures.

Though depression and suicide are but two factors that comprise the full scope of mental illness, the range also extends to bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, Dysthymia, phobia and other impairments.

It is important to note that what might feel like depression could be something else entirely, but whose symptoms mimic depression, like crying, sadness, fatigue, poor concentration and weight loss/weight gain.

Knowing this might help others speak freely with their physician as to how they are feeling and what they are experiencing should one be intimidated or feel any stigma associated with mental illness per se.

The bigger question to these issues is, "What is it that has our children and even adults feeling so isolated and disconnected from each other and life itself?"

"Our society is becoming more and more prone toward isolation with everything from parents not being available to their kids, to being in an occupation that lends itself toward isolation or in our addiction to the Internet," Farber said.

This mental health series aims to not only shine a light on mental illness in Montgomery County specifically as it relates to depression and suicide, but to also gives ways, means, resources and information to deter the likelihood of depression that can lead to suicide while also building healthy lifestyles that instill a sense of connectivity between the family and friends.

Part I of this series is to share information, create an awareness, an alarm even, to the current environment for both teens and adults suffering from depression.

In the ensuing series, Part II will focus on diagnosis and treatment resources, Part III on building healthy lifestyles as a deterrence for depression, and Part IV focusing on coping as a family when a member has either committed suicide or is currently suffering from depression, both untreated and treated.

Dr. Mila McManus may be reached at (866) 680-WELL or visit www.woodlandswellnessMD.com

Dr. Robert Weinberger may be reached at (281) 240-8336 or www.nationalparentsnetwork.com.

Joe Wise, M.A., may be reached at (281) 363-4220 or www.wfipc.com

Dr. Steven Farber, may be reached at (936) 756-8142 or www.conroehearts.com.

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Well, it's an interesting article, but I happen to believe that there's more at work here. It's the lack of something real in these peoples' lives. This is what happens when you try to fill an eternal void with earthly possessions, and I hate to say it, but this runs true outside of the suburbs, too.

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  • 2 weeks later...


Depression Part II: Treatment available for those suffering symptoms of depression

By DONNA WICK , Villager staff

Her husband stood, flailing the gun in his hand with every intention of ending life as he knew it - as he loathed it. Then the phone rang. An old high school buddy had called out of the blue to just say hello. That was sign enough for him. He put the gun down.

How can things get so out of control, so low, so debilitating that one would consider taking his life? For this man, a distant voice served as his lifesaver, but how many more never get that kind of call?

"Connection, feeling significant, is essential to our existence," said Carol Paine, a licensed clinical social worker in private practice and founder of Woodlands Psychotherapy Wellness Center. "Pressures may get so bad for some adults that they cannot find that single reason to keep living.

"People, Baby Boomers in particular, are continuing in their eternal search for the meaning of life. They don't feel like they have achieved what they wanted to in life and feel that their life is more than half over. This single fact alone can drive a person deeper into the abyss of discontent."

According to Wade Clark Roof in his book, "A Generation of Seekers," the baby boomer population on the timeline of life was like a python swallowing a pig representing a huge infusion of people. People have been waiting to see what wonders the boomers would bring about. There are some who have been very industrious, but for those who expected great things from themselves, the discontent can run high.

Roof pointed out that every generation rebels against the former. Children of boomers have adopted a more stable life instead of chaotically searching for meaning and purpose. The problem for them is that many women who have elected to stay home akin to women of the 50s are better educated and find that there is little satisfaction in their daily routine.

Still, for others there is the growing problem of the "imposter phenomenon" that compels people to live their life externally. They live an unauthentic life that brings a disquieted inner darkness that begs to ask, "If you really knew me, would you still like me?"

"There are men who are measuring their life's worth through their successes. I am seeing a growing number of women in my office who are in their late 30s to their early 40s who are well educated, who have young kinds because they waited longer in life to start their family, whose husbands are successful, but they are not getting satisfaction. They are not feeling fulfilled in life," Paine said. "Then I see others who are simply 'not OK' with themselves. They are living an unauthentic life, trying to keep up the pace, measuring themselves in comparison to others. All of these environments can impose a feeling of depression."

But when talking about the signs and symptoms of depression, is there a difference between teenagers and adults? Does depression have levels of understanding, value, breadth and intensity?

"For teenagers the signs and symptoms are different from that of an adult," said Irena Milentijevic, a licensed psychologist in private practice. "Certainly, both can have debilitating mood swings, but not in the same way. For teenagers, the first indication might be behavioral problems, being disruptive in school, acting out and having difficulty focusing. There can also be signs of irritability and anger, hopelessness, preoccupation with dark song lyrics, decreased enjoyment in activities that they previously enjoyed, low energy, boredom, social isolation, low self-esteem, poor performance in school, frequent absences, changes in sleep habits and physical maladies like headaches and stomach aches."

Milentijevic said parents often wonder if their child is depressed or simply going through typical teenage "stuff" when the symptoms are as nondescript as boredom, low self-esteem, headaches and such.

"The real indicator is when their moods are affecting their relationships," she said. "Sure every child might experience boredom to a degree, but is it affecting their school work?

"Important to also note, there isn't that one single symptom that parents and onlookers can flawlessly deduce depression. Depression is a combination of things. It might be that the child enjoyed music by Hillary Duff and now they are listening to Marilyn Manson in addition to irregular sleep habits and failing subjects in school."

For many parents, the realization that there is a problem with their child comes from an unwelcome phone call from the school. A child was caught skipping class, smoking pot behind the gym or fighting with other kids after school.

"While most students are contending with everyday problems such as moodiness or hormones, some students are beginning to have the onset of serious mental health problems, said David Parmer, coordinator of crisis counseling and prevention for the Conroe Independent School District. "We encourage parents to come and talk to us about concerns they have about their child's behavior and mental health. We recommend that parents keep their physician informed about medical and psychological concerns they are having about their child."

No doubt, raising healthy kids, creating healthy families and for everyone to function in a responsible manner takes a village.

"We realize that raising healthy kids is a combined effort of the school, the family and the community," said Dr. Don Stockton, superintendent of CISD. "We all want the same thing -- healthy, happy children that function well at school and in life."

Depression is like heart disease, it is far easier to anticipate a problem so as to reverse it than it is after a full-blown attack. Mental health professionals have a higher success rate with those who come in for early treatment than those who are past the point of depression, contemplating suicide.

"The key is early diagnosis," Milentijevic said. "A parent cannot be too safe in this. If you sense a problem, then bring your child in. Let a professional get involved. Children are highly responsive to treatment.

"In addition to early detection, people must realize that depression isn't as simple as taking a pill. Medication, in some instances, is helpful because medication can improve mood, but there needs to be a combination of both talk therapy and medication, and lastly treatment must include coping skills. This is what triggers many mood swings -- the inability to cope and oftentimes, the environment isn't helpful in showing the way for many children."

All psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors agree that people yearn for a sense of connection, of feeling loved and valued, of being appreciated and significant. In the aforementioned case, the husband's contemplation of suicide gave way to his misguided desire because he, in the 11th hour, felt a sense of connection, of love, of significance with someone else.

With many children who are experiencing mood disorders of any kind including irritability and aggression, there may need to be a reevaluation of a diagnosis previously made that a parent is not comfortable with.

"Too many children are being diagnosed with ADD too frequently," Milentijevic said. "Of ADD-labeled children, 80 percent have been misdiagnosed. There is more than just one factor when evaluating a child's mood disorder. Is the family in crisis and the child acting out as some form of coping skill? Is there depression at home, trauma in the family, illness that instills a sense of fear in the child, anxiety caused by family problems, money problems or divorce? These are factors that must be addressed when attempting to diagnosis a seeming hyperactive or disruptive child."

Another aspect to depression is drug usage. There are many counselors who ask about substance abuse in their initial assessment with any patient.

"When children start smoking pot, the problem of depression is no longer isolated. There is a family dynamic involved. Not that there is any one person to blame, but the family is most definitely factored in," Paine said. "It could be that pot-smoking parents of the '60s feel certain permissiveness about their children smoking pot. However, pot today is much different than what was available in the '60s. It is purer, stronger and sucks the life force right out of the child. It kills motivation completely. So when looking at the list of symptoms, and boredom is a symptom, is your child bored because there is nothing to do or because they are high and complacent in life with a 'life sucks' attitude?"

Just as with children being misdiagnosed, can the same happen to adults? Can an adult be diagnosed with depression because of the classic symptoms, yet the actual problem is totally unrelated to depression?

"There are many men and women who come to me for treatment who find out that they are not suffering from depression at all, but have estrogen dominance, low testosterone levels, thyroid problems or a hormonal imbalance," said Dr. Mila McManus, a board certified family physician and founder of The Woodlands Institute for Health & Wellness. "Some of the people I see have been on medication for years and shouldn't have been. The question is, 'Are you one of the people who is currently taking an anti-depressant, but is not depressed at all?'"

Still there are alternative treatments that also engage and assess symptoms of depression.

Dr. Steve Clothier, doctor of chiropractic and practitioner of applied kinesiology with The Alternative Health Center of The Woodlands, claims that depression can be too quickly diagnosed when the problem might be adrenal gland fatigue, emotional stress or diet.

"We have been able to help a number of clients with our neuro-emotional technique (NET) that monitors emotional trauma or toxic relationships that, at first, served to protect the patient, but then later 'short circuits' progress in healing. Scientists recognize the connection between the nervous system, emotions, and health," Clothier said. "NET can bring a body back into balance. For those who are complaining of body aches and pains, not sleeping well, feeling fatigued, we are finding that this can be more of an issue with adrenal gland fatigue than depression, specifically. So we look at all the aspects in a holistic approach."

The real question of treatment is not what kind, but when will a person suffering move toward treatment. A parent is not expected to know what types of treatment are appropriate for his or her child when they are not privy to the scope of treatment available. Same is true for an adult who is frustrated in dealing with, or trying to diagnosis, what might be wrong with a spouse, a family member or even a co-worker.

Counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists all agree that if a person feels that life is no longer enjoyable, if they are fatigued, irritable, restless, with irregular sleep patterns and increased weight gain or severe weight loss, it is recommend that the person invest time in themselves with a visit to a physician who will listen and be responsive to one's concerns.

"One must realize that with any issue of mental illness, they didn't get there overnight," said John Bracken, executive director of Montgomery County Youth Services. "We don't blame parents or chastise children. We are all in this together and MCYS offers a number of services for children to take advantage of from counseling, camps, mentoring, to classes on how to make good decisions. Suffice it to say, there are no quick fixes, but with time, attention and proper care, we can all find some solution."

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Series on Depression Part III: Therapists offer tips to deter depression

By: DONNA WICK , Villager staff

All those interviewed in this mental health series agree a possible deterrence for dysfunction, depression or otherwise upset within the family is establishing a sense of connectivity. Part three of this series focuses on deterrence by building lifestyles and creating family harmony.

All those interviewed in this mental health series agree a possible deterrence for dysfunction, depression or otherwise upset within the family is establishing a sense of connectivity. Part three of this series focuses on deterrence by building lifestyles and creating family harmony.

"What is first necessary to say is that parenting is hard work. It is a job that is rarely appreciated, without pay and unrecognized in its value for stay-at-home moms," said Irena Milentijevic, a licensed psychologist in private practice. "To blame parents for poor parenting by others who are not involved in the dynamics of the home is to be ill-informed. People are doing the best they can with the resources they have."

But there are alternative resources available to parents looking for other ways to build a better lifestyle, which will work for everyone. Sometimes all it takes is communication and the will to try.

"Families need to work at developing balance and harmony in the home, as part of the family lifestyle," said Joe Wise, M.A., a psychotherapist in The Woodlands Family Institute. "Perhaps this can be simply created by spending more time together, helping each other reduce their respective stresses through conversation or exercise and talk about family matters."

Whether the family attempts to eat a single meal together during the week, participate in shared activities that are fun for all concerned, or create traditions that are family specific, the consensus is that families today are more disjointed than ever.

"What families, parents, need to consider strongly is that not every minute needs to be planned out. This can create an undo pressure. What parents might want to realize is that kids are people, too," said Betty Eddy, founder of LifeSkills International. "They need social time, down time, time where they can be emotionally comforted and nurtured. This isn't necessarily found in participating in a string of after-school activities.

"If a parent finds that all the time they share with their children is in shuttling them here and there, they might want to consider letting some things go. Sometimes, this kind of distraction can speak volumes for the relationship. Maybe the family operates better when no one is dialoging, but staying very busy, apart from one another."

What counselors, therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists agree on is that every one in the family has a desire to be heard. Essentially, everyone wants to feel a sense of significance.

"We all have different strategies on how we want to be heard, loved and respected. We are all different in this. Trouble is we tend to love each other based on how we want to be loved, and not how the other person would like to be loved," Eddy said. "We all have different personality styles that if the family could figure out these out, a greater sense of harmony could be established in the home. There would be less disruption and more joy."

Eddy uses a distinctive and highly successful personality assessment test that is very easy to administer, is self-evaluating and easy to incorporate the results. Within minutes families can understand their own personality strengths and weaknesses in addition to others in the family. Additionally, Eddy then cross references these profiles predicting how the family has been interacting with one another and how better they can appreciate their differences through the use of this profile so as to complement one another.

In addition to assessing the varying profiles of each family member, another program that Phoenix House is currently using to build healthy families is called ASSET, developed by the Search Institute, an independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide leadership, knowledge, and resources to promote healthy children, youth and communities.

"A national survey indicates that parents spend, on average, a total of five minutes with their children each day. There is something wrong when so little time is being invested in the family while the expectation remains high for its success to function and thrive. We use the 40 Developmental Asset Program created by Search Institute," said Marcia Baker, director of Phoenix House - Houston, the nation's largest nonprofit substance abuse services organization.

The 40 developmental assets is the heart of the institute's work that helps develop positive experiences and personal qualities young people need in order to grow up healthy, caring and responsible. Some schools are incorporating this in their curriculum while some communities are taking the role on themselves for the overall functioning of the family and ultimately the community at large.

The program frames around 40 assets of the family and community that address both internal and external assets. For example, internal assets would be those of motivation, caring, decision making, self-esteem and sense of purpose. External assets would be family support, school climate, community values, service to others, positive peer influence, youth programs, religion and time at home. The entire program speaks to building healthy individuals, families and communities from the inside out.

"There are things the family can do on their own to build a sense of harmony in the family, but then there are times when the family needs a little guidance and direction. That is what we are here for. Sometimes it takes that third-party person to draw out from individuals their essential needs," Wise said.

Whether the family needs to tweak their schedule and allow for shared meals and conversation, invest time in developing traditions unique to them that bonds them together, or seek guidance from an outside source that can draw out from each person their individual needs and expectations, the singular message is clear: families work best when they work together for the common goal of providing a nurturing, loving, caring and supportive environment.

When families -- children specifically -- have this secure footing of care, love and support, coping skills thrive and can ultimately serve as a strong deterrence for depression, alienation, loneliness and any feeling of disconnection within the family.

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