US Congressman Tim Ryan was the closing keynote speaker at the AOCC All Ohio Counselors Conference held November 4th-6th. He began with some success stories and outlined the mental health school act, providing funding for on-site school-based mental health, and the move toward mental health parity. Ryan said, ‘We can’t change neighborhoods if we don’t change schools.” Ryan stressed that ‘We need to compete and function at a very high level.’ He asked the rhetorical question, ‘Why are we disoriented as a country?’ Some 313 million Americans are competing with 1.4 billion Chinese and 1.4 billion in India. Technology advances and changes every 18 months. The amount of time kids spend with technology access affects them as people (human beings). The amount of stress people are under is enormous. Doctors and nurses are burnt out from high stress levels. Teachers haven’t had a raise in 9 years. There is an economic squeeze on families to make it. Some 44 million Americans experience mental health issues; 60% receive no mental health services. Every 13 minutes a person dies by suicide. Of suicides, 7% are in metro areas and 20% in rural areas. Additionally, 1.7 million Ohioans are affected by substance abuse at a cost of $600 billion. Every county in Ohio has a heroin addiction issue. In Summit County (Ryan hails from Youngstown) 56 died of a heroin overdose in 2014.
“So,” he asked, “why do you do it?” As Coach Valvano said, “Every day ordinary people do extraordinary things. That’s what this is all about.” Ryan continued, “You do it because you believe you can help them (kids) become the best they can possibly be. “ He stressed that what we do must be grounded in the latest science, but our policies are often grounded in tradition. “You can’t fix the problem with the same level of thinking that raised the problem!” (Attributed to Einstein). Then Ryan took the audience on a trip through a range of approaches for the future. “It is time we transition into a healthier culture. We have to think differently,” He explained. (This includes complementary and alternative approaches that are pre-emptive and often less expensive.)
Ryan said, ‘Some of the alternative approaches include epigenetics. We’ve learned in recent years that the genes we inherit can be turned on or off based on our behavior. Some 100 genes cause Alzheimer’s, but only 5 genes predict who will get it; the other 95 are influenced by behavior. Diet and stress contribute. The budget for Alzheimer’s will sink the Medicare program; the same with breast cancer, if we do not approach this differently. Further, we’ve learned each of us has a microbiome in our gut, some 100 trillion microbial cells which outnumber our DNA by 100x; 500 live in our guts and are linked to cancer. We’ve learned that an imbalance in our gut bacteria can lead to ADHD, depression, and so forth when we’re out of whack through stress, poor diet and so forth. The trends are not looking good. We need to re-orient how we look at problems in the U.S.’
He cited the work of Dr Hyman who has found that depression, and auto-immune diseases are linked to B12 deficiencies, lack of vitamin D in our diets, and decreased Omega 3 caused by increases in mercury. “The U.S. agricultural system is subsidized to produce agricultural products which go into processed foods (such as corn syrup, corn, soy, wheat) to make it cheap. [Cheap food is fast food is processed food.] The species is 69,000 years old; we’ve only been eating this way 50 years -with negative outcomes. Agriculture is the #1 industry in our state, yet we have the highest rate of food insecurity in Ohio. The system is broken. We need to support healthy products and teach kids how to eat right. Healthy food is a common core.”
Ryan said another successful alternative approach utilizes mindfulness. ‘Mindfulness can do much for the human brain. This technique calms the amygdala and allows kids to overcome the fight, flight or freeze response and learn. Mindfulness promotes social and emotional learning. Results show there is an 11% increase in performance; 10% in good behavior when mindfulness is instituted in the curriculum. We need to teach kids how to pay attention. Mindfulness based stress reduction as researched at University of Wisconsin, The Ohio State University, and University of Michigan has been implemented with the Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bulls, and with U.S. Marine Special Forces. MBSR has even been tried with Google and Target employees because it works. We have to re-orient ourselves re.: stress so ordinary kids can do extraordinary things. We need to treat our kids like high functioning future Olympians. This approach can reduce school based suspensions 60%.’ He suggested having a peace corner in the room where a child can color, meditate, journal. There is a case where a youth self-referred to the school resource center. Besides food, kids need focus, building connection, adequate sleep, and arts -which provide outlets for creativity. It’s a matter of the KISS principle; keeping it simple, and creating schools of the future that will transform communities.’
He wrapped up the keynote, ‘This is about empowerment. We can do a heck of a lot better. If we don’t talk about the broader vision then we’ll never move the dime across the finish line at all. It’s time to teach kids to thrive in society. We are not doing them any favors with our approach in 2015.’
Read more about Congressman Tim Ryan https://timryan.house.gov/about-me/full-biography
[photo credit: AOCC conference program]