Shedding Light On Children’s Mental Health

Safe Solutions for Childhood Depression

In our culture of sedation and junk food, depression among children is on the rise. The fastest-growing market for antidepressant drugs is among preschoolers. At least four percent of the nation’s preschool-age children—over one million of them—are clinically depressed. This is a sobering statistic, considering the damaging effect that antidepressant drugs have on psycho-social-spiritual development.

The good news is that both movement and living nutrition are highly effective for the prevention and the treatment of depression. It is common for children and adults to feel more uplifted and energized on live foods. On this healthy diet it is not natural to be depressed.

We have twenty times more mentally disabled adults in the U.S. now than we had in 1850. There are a variety of reasons for this, including ever-increasing social and mental stress; the use of antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anti-anxiety drugs; a diet of white sugar, white flour, and junk food; vaccinations; environmental toxicity; nutritional deficiencies; pesticide and herbicide exposure; EMF brainwave disruption; illegal drug use; allergies to dairy, gluten, soy, and other common foods; and a variety of other factors. The use of psychotropic drugs, including those for hyperactivity, have been linked to interference with normal brain function and psychosocial and sexual development.

According to depression specialists, additional causes of childhood depression include trauma such as family conflict, violence—whether in the home and neighborhood or viewed on TV—yelling, criticism, inappropriate or unclear expectations, neglect (which can occur even when neither parent is working), maternal separation, divorce, and abuse.

Happily, when children are in a consistent, highly supportive environment free from trauma, their bodies and brains can heal and develop. There are simple, healthy ways to actually repair the brain—an organic, vegan, and raw diet; exercise; and basic adequate nutritional supplements are some of these ways. Depression-Free for Life offers a ninety-percent successful approach to healing depression naturally. Time in nature and with animal companions, yoga, and other forms of spiritual practice, as well as spending time with supportive adults, are also recommended for the safe treatment of childhood depression. Activities that support the child’s self-esteem are also highly beneficial.

The Importance of Omega-3s

Adequate omega-3 contributes to a healthy brain in a variety of important ways. They are important for supporting and improving memory, cognition, sleep, and neuromuscular control, and for reversing the mortality rate of neurodegenerative diseases. Omega-3s also support the new manufacture of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter needed for memory. They stimulate release of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which protects against anxiety, depression, pain, and panic attacks.

Omega-3s are major components of brain tissue. They also help with brain and eye development in babies. An adequate long-chain omega-3 supply also helps prevent and treat postpartum depression. In our society, particularly among teens, it is a good thing to reduce aggression, hostility, and impulsiveness; so adequate omega-3s is even more important. This is hard to achieve with a low (ten-percent or less)-fat diet.

Omega-3s are essential for prevention and treatment of all depression, including bipolar disorder. As pointed out earlier, recent studies investigating the epidemic of military suicides in Iraq and Afghanistan found that those who committed suicide had the lowest omega-3 levels in the military population. Low DHA in particular was associated with a sixty-percent increase in suicides, making the clear point that adequate brain DHA is necessary for healthy brain and mental-health functions. Considering the current increase in depression among children, it would be very interesting to correlate their omega-3 levels with their rates of depression. We recommend being on the safe side, and supplying children of all ages with plenty of omega-3 foods in their diet.

Adequate omega-3s improve mood regulation, and ameliorate impulsivity, hostility, and aggression. They improve dysfunction in monoaminergic (monoamine neurotransmitter) systems including 5-hydroxytryptamine and serotonin. They help prevent cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine elevations that occur with biological or emotional stress. They appear to reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease, and assist in proper nerve signaling.

Omega-3 fatty acid levels that are too low contribute to many disease dysfunctions including increased heart disease, liver and kidney-function instability, and general mental disturbances, specifically those that result in suicide.

From an Ayurvedic perspective, deficient omega-3s, as well as inadequate cholesterol, create an imbalanced vata mental state with poorer cognition, memory, and functioning. This results in lower life-force, lower vitality, and generally a lower reserve of vital life-force and sexual energy. Along with this there may be depression, violence, anxiety, and even suicide. The Ayurvedic term for this is vital reserve is ojas, which means deep primordial vigor and reserve. Low ojas results in a generally weakened physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual condition. In this larger context, the overall effect of a low-fat diet has serious negative ramifications for the quality of life and life-force vibrancy for our children. In today’s world, in which our children are getting weaker and less healthy by all parameters, adequate omega-3s are very important. This is why we strongly recommend a moderately high plant-based fat diet, rather than a low-fat diet, as very important for all aspects of our children’s physical, emotional, and mental health and development.

Saturated fat and omega-3 intake from plant-based fat actually protects the cardiovascular system, brain, mental health, general health, and life-force. Higher healthy-fat intake creates a macronutrient balance with the shift to a 25–45% carbohydrate diet, with its higher fat content derived from vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

This holistic approach to diet is not just for heart disease or diabetes but for overall well-being, and for physical, neurological, brain, and mental development. It is a lifelong enhancement diet for health and longevity in general, which is good for every stage of a child’s development.

Cholesterol also seems to be very important for normal brain development and high-level physical, emotional, and mental functioning. The best vegan sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids include purslane and AFA (Aphanizomenon flos-aquae) algae, found in products such as “E-3 Live” and “E-3 Live Brain-On.”

Short-chain omega-3s are found in hemp seeds, chia seeds (Salba® brand is an organic source), flaxseeds, and walnuts—which even look like little brains. Other plant sources of omega-3s include okra and leafy greens. The short-chain conversion to long-chain is approximately doubled by adding a tablespoon of coconut oil to each three tablespoons of the seeds.

What about fish and fish oils, such as the cod-liver oil capsules sold “for kids”? While fish is indeed high in omega-3 fatty acids, these are risky to ingest because our polluted waters contain high levels of mercury and other heavy metals that poison the nervous system and the brain. Especially when it comes to neurodevelopmental disorders, we want to help the body rid itself of toxic metals such as mercury and lead. Concentrated amounts of these metals are found in animal flesh, particularly its fatty tissue—and even in artificial food colorings—but not in vegetarian seafood such as sea veggies and algae.

B Vitamin Complex Deficiency Syndrome

One of the major causes of violence, depression, anxiety, feelings of impending doom, hostility, mental confusion, and murder by teenagers is most likely a generalized B-complex deficiency in the standard American teenage diet. This deficiency is particularly damaging to young brains. This deficiency in a variety of B vitamins, including B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, and folic acid, interferes with normal brain development and brain function even in adults.

These same “psychological symptoms” are noted in a variety of ways in B-vitamin-deficient adults. These nutritional deficiencies are caused by the standard American diet of white flour, white sugar, junk foods, and soda pop. This is compounded by a diet low in healthy fats, which further debilitates the brain because of a lack of long-chain omega-3s and cholesterol needed for proper brain development and daily function. This deficiency has been associated with severe anxiety, depression, violence, confusion, feelings of impending doom, suicidal feelings, and homicidal feelings, and some believe it may be associated with the teenage mass-murders in Oregon and Colorado.

The key solution to this deficiency is to eat a diet high in natural B vitamins. Regular consumption of nuts, seeds, leafy greens, whole grains, and beans can go a long way toward preventing B complex-deficiency syndrome, and can support natural and normal brain development, which is dependent on B vitamins.

We also recommend giving children a natural-food B-vitamin concentrate. This is a subtle kind of support that is, in fact, not so subtle. It is important for parents to develop a diet for their children through their teen years that is naturally high in B vitamins. That will help protect our children from this deficiency syndrome that is playing such a significant but widely unrecognized role in mental and brain development and behavior, and allow us to prevent a range of emotional and mental disabilities such as schizophrenia and psychosis.

The Profound Effect of Improved Nutrition in Schools

The profound effect of improved nutrition on what is considered a normal child’s learning is illustrated well in the exciting story of Appleton, Wisconsin’s Central Alternative Charter High School. In 1997, an organization called Natural Ovens began a program to bring healthier foods into area schools, starting with Central Alternative High. At the time, discipline problems and weapons violations on campus were so substantial that a police officer had been brought in on a daily basis to supplement the staff.

When the school removed vending-machine junk-food snacks and sodas, however, in exchange for whole, non-GMO food lunches made from scratch, emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables, it was not just lunchtime that changed for students and faculty. An unexpected, positive, peaceful social transformation for the entire school environment emerged. Discipline ceased to be a major issue, truancy rates went down, athletic performance went up, and grades improved. The school counselor reported that angry outbursts had stopped. Their school superintendent, Dr. Thomas Scullen, said, “They have learned that healthier foods are going to make them a better person. It keeps them more focused, and makes them happier.”

Principal LuAnn Coenen also spoke of her amazement at the change. As part of her responsibilities each year, she reports to the state of Wisconsin how many students at the school have been found using drugs or carrying weapons, or who have dropped out, been expelled, or committed suicide. Since the food program began, the number in each of these categories has been “zero.”


In the book Conscious Parenting, Rabbi Dr. Gabriel Cousens shares his insights from his background as a grandfather, psychiatrist, family therapist, director of the Boston Teen Center and Petaluma People Services Center and teen program, mental health director of Sonoma County’s Head Start program, family practice holistic physician, scientist, spiritual teacher in multiple cultural and family traditions including Native American sundancer, Spiritdance clan chief, yogi, and ordained rabbi. Co-Author of Conscious Parenting, Leah Lynn lends her voice as a mother, Montessori teacher, and spiritual student/practitioner at the Tree of Life Center US.

Dr. Cousens’ Holistic Wellness Lecture Series is including a conscious parenting lecture for the first time that will cover how to safely raise conscious children with a vegan, live-food cuisine.