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Mental Health and Environment February 13, 2013

Posted by Nancy Hepp in Newsletter introductions.
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Elise Miller, MEd
Director

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five children under the age of 18 have or have had a serious debilitating mental illness—that is even more than the proportion of children under 18 who have been diagnosed with a learning, developmental or behavioral disorder (which the CDC indicates in one in six). In this light, I was gratified to attend a meeting of the Northern California Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists last month that focused on not only social stressors, but on toxic chemicals. In fact, this may have been the first time chemical contaminants appeared on the primary agenda at any meeting of a psychiatric association across the country. Given the scientific literature associating a number of chemicals—including pesticides, bisphenol A, flame retardants, lead and mercury found in products used or ingested every day—with learning and developmental disabilities, it would make sense that at least some of these chemicals could also play a role in mental illness (see: Scientific and policy statements on environmental agents associated with neurodevelopmental disorders by Steven G. Gilbert, et al). After all, if a chemical can disrupt the neurological system, the result could range from ADHD to depression depending on a number of other factors for that individual.

But why should a psychiatrist or psychotherapist care about possible chemical exposures? Well, if these health professionals understand that certain contaminants might hinder a person’s mental health, then it may be that a patient’s suffering could be alleviated by reducing their exposures to certain chemicals. No amount of prescriptions for psychopharmaceuticals nor talk therapy is going to ultimately help if the environment in which a person lives, works, studies or plays is contaminated and thereby contributes to a mental health diagnosis.

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A View from the North November 17, 2012

Posted by Nancy Hepp in Newsletter introductions.
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In recognition of CHE’s 10th anniversary, colleagues who have been particularly instrumental to shaping CHE this past decade will be invited to write an introduction. This month’s introduction is by Pamela Miller, MS, Executive Director and Founder, Alaska Community Action on Toxics and Coordinator, CHE Alaska Regional Working Group.

As I reflect on the tenth anniversary of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment, I am grateful—grateful for the vision of CHE, the connections with remarkable scientists and health advocates, and the incredible resources and knowledge base that CHE provides. I love that civility is a key underlying principle of every CHE conversation. I remember when I first became a CHE partner in 2002, a few of us at Alaska Community Action on Toxics would huddle together on cold, dark wintry mornings here in Alaska listening to partnership calls with intense interest. Sometimes we would invite the entire staff over to our home and share tea while we all participated in the calls. The calls sparked new ideas about how to engage in our work more effectively, possibilities for new community-based research, enlightened us about new science that informed our efforts to achieve transformative and protective policies. The CHE Vallombrosa Consensus Statement on Environmental Contaminants and Human Fertility Compromise provided the scientific basis for our environmental reproductive health and justice program, affirming much of what is witnessed by health workers and Alaska Native elders in our communities concerning involuntary infertility, miscarriages, and other reproductive health problems.

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What’s really behind the increase in autism rates. May 7, 2012

Posted by Nancy Hepp in guest commentary.
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CHE partner Alice Shabecoff,  co-author with her husband Philip of the book Poisoned for Profit: How Toxins Are Making Our Children Chronically Ill.

The just-released data on autism shows a count of one in 88 children, up from a rate of one in 100 three years ago, and one in 150 five years ago.  With each change, the response remains the same: Oh, that’s because of better detection and broader definitions.

How, then, to account for the sharp increase in childhood asthma—15.7 percent higher today than ten years ago? Or an increase of the same magnitude in preterm births? Or the indisputable fact that childhood cancer has climbed an inexorable one percent, year after year, over the past thirty years?  As has Down Syndrome. And among rarer illnesses, too, the rates keep going up and up—from the increase in malformations of the penis among newborn boys, to the doubling in a generation of endometriosis, a deformity of the uterus, among girls.

There is no way that these wildly different childhood illnesses can be chalked up to, and written off as, an increase in detection and/or diagnosis.

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