Mental health professionals are starting to recognize reactive attachment disorder more often these days. Yet, many miss or misdiagnose the correlation with mental illnesses such as mood disorders. I think that’s because many graduate school programs don’t include a significant portion of their curriculum on attachment disorders, particularly combined with the mental illness correlation. Thus, mental health professionals come out of graduate school with little knowledge about how to work effectively with children overcoming trauma.
Here at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development, we’ve built our model based on nearly 40 years of research and experiences working with children with attachment disorder and their families. Dr. John Alston was our psychiatrist here at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development for over 30 years and treated countless children who suffered from attachment disorder. Over the last 20 years, my colleague Dr. Alston and I have learned a lot together about nature versus nurture in regard to children overcoming early trauma.
Correlations between attachment disorder & mental illnesses/mood disorders:
- Adults who abuse and neglect children often do so as a result of their own mental illnesses (read more here). Thus, abused and neglected children typically carry an unfortunate combination of mental illnesses from their biological parents (“nature”) and attachment disorders due to their early trauma (“nurture”).
- The onset of mental illness (typically during adolescence) can amplify symptoms of attachment disorder.
- Trauma early in children’s development causes neurological deregulation resulting in learning problems, emotional, and behavioral problems.
When mental health professionals recognize attachment disorder, they can confuse the underlying mental illnesses for other diagnoses. Typically, professionals misdiagnose kids with attachment disorder for ADHD and/or depression and prescribe medications such as stimulants and anti-depressants accordingly. These medications further complicate problems because stimulants and anti-depressants often further agitate children’s moods rather than help. Dr. Cathy Collins, our current psychiatrist, and Dr. Alston have often had success when they take children off stimulants and anti-depressants and treat their mood problems. Once we accurately assess for and treat children’s actual mental illnesses, if present, the rest of our team can begin to work effectively with our clients on their attachment disorders. At that point, family therapy and our therapeutic treatment parents can help our clients and their families make significant progress. We’re grateful to have outstanding psychiatrists experienced in developmental trauma and childhood mental illness as a part of our tight-knit, all-inclusive family therapeutic treatment team.