Questions directed at psychiatrist Kenneth Towbin sprang from all over the tightly packed room
“What's your opinion of gluten on children's behavior?”
“Is it normal for kids to behave well in school but be disruptive at home?”
In honor of Children's Mental Health Month, the Department of Pupil services brought Towbin, a board-certified psychiatrist and chief of clinical child and adolescent psychiatry in the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at the National Institute of Mental Health, to speak with parents about hyper and irritable behavior.
Towbin had done some professional development in Loudoun and had done speaking engagements at other schools before being solicited by Pupil Services.
“We had such great feedback about the information he shared, we thought he'd make a great speaker,” said Suzanne Jimenz, director of student services at LCPS. “We realize there are a lot of needs so we're trying to find different ways of sharing information and gathering information.”
The event took place May 16 at the Loudoun County Public Schools Administration Building, where a third of the meeting room was sectioned off. Nearly 100 parents crammed into the small space.
“The turnout suggests this is an area of need and an area of interest for people,” Jimenez said.
Towbin first distinguished between mental illnesses that can be found in children, including ADHD, irritability and pediatric bipolar disorder.
Much of Towbin's presentation focused on Severe Mood Dysregulation, a disorder characterized by irritability and hyperactivity. SMD is not currently listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Towbin's research was in part prompted by the increased diagnoses in bipolar disorder in children and adolescents, which has seen a 4,000 percent increase since 1994.
Towbin said that SMD was primarily chronic, while bipolar disorder is episodic in nature.
“It's all about the episodes,” Towbin hammered into the audience.
At the National Institute of Mental Health, Towbin has been researching the differences in brain activity between those with SMD, bipolad disorder and normal children. The data he presented displayed different activity based on the behavior.
“You wouldn't think these children's brain circuitry was working the same, would you?” Towbin said. “You wouldn't want to group these children together, would you?”
Towbin's talk is just one event done in conjunction with Children's Mental Health Month.
Loudoun staff are boasting green ribbons in honor of the month, created by PEER students at various high schools.
Loudoun County Public Schools in partnership with the Loudoun Library System and the Wellness Connection, have already sponsored several events, including one on how to deal with a child using drugs and another on art as mental healing.
The month will conclude May 30 with a discussion with Gretchen Rubin, author of the Happiness Project, a book about learning to be happier.