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Jun 25, 2021

Is your child having strange symptoms? Imagine your child wakes up one morning and can't move an arm or a leg, has trouble speaking, can't taste, is suffering small seizures, or even temporarily blinded, all the tests come back normal and the doctors can't figure it out. This is an alarming trend that's happening now in children and some adults as a result of acute stress due to COVID-19. This is called conversion disorder. And although it's usually temporary, it's a way the brain copes with too much emotional stress. What parents do and what do they need to know?

I'm Hilary Topper and this is Hilary Topper on air. Today I have the great pleasure of speaking with Dr. Fumi Stephanie Hancock, CEO of Pool of Bethesda Psychiatric Health and a bestselling author of 24 self-help books. Dr. Hancock, welcome to the show.

Dr. Hancock - Thank you so much for having me, Hilary. Thank you.

Hilary - So can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

Dr. Hancock - Oh, wow. Well, I'm a board-certified psychiatric, doctor of nurse practice out of Arizona. I own a group of clinics, but, prior to that, I was a social worker. This means that I was already exposed to seeing children go from foster care to adoption and just the cyclical, you know, go in and out and in and out. And I was able to see a lot of mood disorders going on. And because of that, I went back to school to do nursing until I got to the advanced practice. And now this is all I do. I see patients from four years old all the way to 99 years old.

Hilary - Wow. Let's talk about conversion disorder. What exactly is it and why is it prevalent right now among children?

Dr. Hancock - Thank you so much for asking that question. Uh, when you look at that word convert right conversion, which means something changing from one state to the other. And so when you talk about conversion in psychiatric, we're talking about people who exhibit certain symptoms, but when you take them to a physician, you really cannot find a medical reason for these things that they're going through. So it's more of, it becomes more of a mental issue, even though that what they are exhibiting looks like a physical, like a physical thing that primary care can take care of.

Hilary - So, how do you go about treating this? I mean, first, it's gotta be diagnosed and I'm sure these children, they put them through a lot of different tests before they come to this.

Dr. Hancock - Absolutely. A lot of times, because it is not something that is so known, so I thank you for even bringing it to the forefront because, with the pandemic and everything, kids are being brought to someone like me, brought a family, going to primary care and thinking, oh, well, you know, they have seizures or they can't move or, oh, well, they can't speak well. So you have people really looking at all the things before, even looking at conversion. And so, because of that, it's important that we ask them. Parents were with that, seeing all these signs that are there feel like physical and you're going to the primary care and they say, uh, yeah, it looks physical. We ran a test, we did an EKG. We did all kinds of blood work. We do all things, nothing. We don't see anything there. Then it's time to come to a psychiatric person like myself because we know that it is more of a mental health issue than a physical issue.

Hilary - Well, before we move on, just have to say that I am so appreciative of our sponsors and must take a moment to thank them. Please support our sponsors and tell them that you heard about them on Hilary Topper on air. Special thanks to the Russo law group, the Profit Express with Tim Healy, Pop International Galleries, Gold Benes LLP, and the Pegalis Law Group.

Now, Dr. Hancock back to you, we were talking about conversion disorders in children. What tips can you offer parents regarding mental health for children as we start to come out of this COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Hancock - Thank you for asking that again. One of the things that I want to talk about each, the fact that our children are going through a lot of stress. So it's important that we put our kids in a routine, they need to have a routine as much as, they've been in the house, cooked up in the house for over a year. Some of them are a bit online, you know, not doing well, so great on online schools. So it's important that as they begin to now swittch from an online school into on-site, they need to have a routine. And by that, I mean, For example, if they have whole walk time, make sure that they're all work time sticks to, for example, if it's 2:00 PM, let it be 2:00 PM. If it's, 12 noon that they have lunch, stick to that. If it's a playtime that is 3:00 PM, stick to that, they need to because they're already going through panic. And because they do not know what's going to happen going back to school, they are one minute excited about going back the other minute. They're not too excited because they've been out of touch for a while. So the anxiety is there, but if you can calm them down, and give them singing then that can really slow down, the need to want to kind of them, the brain wants to switch into, well, uh, let me find ways that I can cope with the stress.

Hilary  - And are there any other methods that kids can cope or parents could teach kids or, you know, how you teach parents to teach kids to cope. For example, do you do any kind of like meditation or anything like that?

Dr. Hancock - Well, some of the things that we do is the breathing exercise is really very great. A lot of our kids, they panic. And so they go into this hyperventilation. I remember several years ago I had a opportunity to travel to Saudi Arabia and I worked in Saudi Arabia for several years. And I would see this in kids, but I did not even understand what it was. They would come into class and boom they'll drop and you'll see. As soon as one drops, the other drops and the whole class is dropping. I just drop in with incredible amount of seizure. This is the way of coping. We need to give them, we call it cognitive behavioral therapy, where you take irrational thinking and turn them into rational. And for example, you teach them if they come to you and they say, oh my God, I know I kept me in school today because, and they give us all the days irrational. Your role is to say, okay, um, that sounds rational to you, but let's think about that for a second. What could happen if this, if what you say is true or what could happen if it's not. So you need to teach our children how to take that irrational thinking to rational thinking by really. You as a parent, making yourself an example of making the right decisions, stress management is, it's a good thing, exercising. It's a good thing. Debriefing exercising is also a good fit too. And of course, giving them time to really play with their friends, giving them time to use. Even the internet is not as bad provided is not something that you sit in front of for 11 hours a day.

Hilary - That was my next question. You know, is it okay for kids to do use a screen time? You know, there's been so many different studies out there that are so conflicting about screen time. Could you. Just address that a little bit more.

Dr. Hancock - Yeah. Let's talk about that for a second. Now here's the thing we live in a technology age. We cannot shield our children from it, you know, even in advanced technology. So there's not, there's nothing wrong in giving them time. To be there, but of course, you also want to be watched for, to understand what they're doing on there. I've often found, parents that would just leave their kids and say, oh, they just want to be by themselves in their room. I'm just going to leave them alone. And then you leave that kid alone to his hers own device. 10 hours on the internet now that could, that could smell trouble. So there is nothing wrong with growing in technology if it is used the right way, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. We think it's where they've come together. I have some books where they just come together and they use the technology to come together to talk about the anxiety. Talk about depression, talk about bipolar. So there is a great way that you can use the tool. However, depending on the age of your kids, you've got to be a participant in the tube. You just cannot do ends off with a five-year-old and than go sit in a bedroom, doing something else. Why you leave your five-year-old to play around on the internet for 10 hours crazy.

Hilary - And, and I guess people do that and that's so sad. I know for me, getting outside really helps my mental health. Does this pertain to children too?

Dr. Hancock - Oh my goodness. Oh, absolutely, a lot of parents who tell me, oh, he just wanted to stay in his room. She just want to stay in her room for ever. But then we have something called vitamin D. Right. And the sun is the best way that you can get natural vitamin D.So when you have kids indoors all day with that, you'll have the coordinates or the room is dark and everything like that. What happens is that increases their anxiety. It increases that depression, but when they are out there, the sun. They get that natural vitamin D that helps, that helps to uplift them away from that depression. Then they also get a time to actually breathe and just breathe fresh air into their system. That's also good. Then they're out there playing with others or maybe with their family members. And just exercising every part of their bodies. Some of them go through like fake the call, them false seizures. And because they've been home for so long doing absolutely nothing. So their brain, to cope with all that, go into seizure. We really, I mean, you need to really see this, and looks like seizure. It feels like seizure. The mother is just like, oh my God, what is this? Well, it is not really a seizure.

So when we take them out, they're exercising themselves when they come back. I think even with adults, I don't know about you. When I go out and take a walk and come back, I feel a lot better. My mind is clearer. And so we have to expect that our children are like that.

Hilary - Absolutely. Now let's just talk about. What a parent should do. So their child is having these seizures or there are things going on and they just don't understand what would be your suggestion on what are the steps are to do for, you know, for a parent to take care of their child is the first step to take them to their general practitioner. Should they see someone like you?

Dr. Hancock - Wow. I tell you this, the very first one is seek help with a psychiatric provider because it is a psychiatric issue when you have, I actually had a mother about a few weeks ago. She actually took a picture because this always happened to the kid is a 14 year old and she will go into seizure at 12 midnight and they kept watching it, that it was always between midnight and 12:15. And so. She took a video and actually sent it to me. And I actually literally watch all that movement with our kid. So when you start seeing your kid going through this, I would advise any parent, please seek help with a psychiatric provider, because there are so many ways that you could treat this with a professional.

Hilary - Now I am a big proponent to therapy and psychotherapy, but there are some people who are not, they feel that there's a stigma and there's a shame around this. Can you talk a little bit about that? And if you have any case studies in regard to that?

Dr. Hancock - So, yeah, so here's the thing, cause when we deal with situations like this, I, like you, talk the language that a parent out there would understand. Here's the deal. This is your kid. It is nobody's kid. You're the one who have to face not sleeping overnight. You're the one who have to deal with the pain of watching your child go through the ups and downs. Right. And so as much as we want to talk about stigma, which is out there, there's a lot of stigma out there, but the truth is we know that one right now. Where we are right now, particularly with the COVID pandemic, one in five kids right now are dealing with depression and anxiety, but they're not able to tell their parents now what if three are dealing with seizures, not just seizures alone, but suicidal ideation, particularly in the area that I'm in right now. This is what I'm seeing. One in every three per child that comes to see me. Tell me, I have suicidal thoughts as suicidal ideation, and I've been checking that and just watching that trend. So as a parent, well, we know and understand that there's a stigma because of the pandemic. Things are erupting right now that we can no longer talk about stigma. We have to talk about how to treat our child, how to make sure that they're okay.

Let me give you an example. About a few months ago, I had a four-year-old that attempted to hang himself in a closet. I want to parents hearing this to sit on that, hang himself a four-year-old. And by the time they caught him, the rope was around his neck.

He hit the on that, on that set. Some reason that the sister, the older sister, a 16-year-old was going through something. So they called me and I was going through medication with educational with her and somebody just said, well, ask about it. So I said, well, what would have been the house? How's your brother doing?

He said, oh, he is in his room. I said, oh really? I said, oh, bring him out. Let me talk to him. Well, what. Well, they went in and guess what it was right on that with the wrong, and this is, so this is a key that I come out five minutes before smiling, laughing, saying like everything was okay.

Hilary - That is so incredibly sad, and this is such an important topic. And I so appreciate you bringing this to my attention and to my listener's attention because this is really. This is something very, very serious and people really need to know about this. So, Dr. Hancock, can you tell our listeners how people can get in touch with you to find out more information?

Dr. Hancock - Well, they can always go to That is my clinic. And then we have resources there for them that can talk to you that they can read. They can watch some videos that can tell them a little bit about not just myself, about the clinic and what we do. Well, more importantly, I would urge parents right now to begin to look particularly now that things are opening up slowly. We need to begin to look for signs of anxiety signs and talk with our children. Tell them, give them that opportunity to say, look, if you're feeling a certain way, you have to share with me so that I can help it is time to begin to have this conversation and begin to do it at a massive, a massive pace, because as the pandemic goes, this is yet another pandemic that is growing and many people are ignoring it because, and the fact is there is no shot. We don't have a vaccination mental illness. There's no vaccination. We have to deal with this.

Hilary - So, let me ask you something. One last question. Do you take people from all over the country?

Dr. Hancock - Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. There is tele-psychiatric now. So that's the great thing about it because of the epidemic all of our health plans have now kind of open themselves up to the possibility that we can see patients from different parts. So I have patients that dial in from New Jersey. I have patients in New Jersey. I have them in Wisconsin have in California. So I do have them that dial-in. So that's the cool part about this, and this is what also helps with the stigma, right? So if you, if you feel okay, you know, particularly those who are from the silent cultures, like myself, Africa and all those other countries, You have the tele-psychiatric, where you can do it in your home with nobody know nobody looking or that they'll never know unless you tell them.

Hilary - Right. So this is the great way that you can actually use and tap into the services. Well, we'll be putting your information on the website with this interview. Thank you. Thank you so much, Dr. Hancock for being on the show. This was so informative. This was a real eye-opener and very upsetting, you know, so I do hope that if you are listening to this out there and you see an issue with your child, please give Dr. Hancock a call.

Dr. Hancock - Thank you so much for having me.

Thank you. I'd also like to thank our sponsors, the Russo Law Group, The Profit Express, Pop International Galleries, Gold Benes LLP, and the Pegalis law group. And last but not least, I want to thank you for tuning in and listening to this. If you want more information on this show or any other show, you can visit us at or you can find us on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Alexa, Apple podcasts, you name it. We're out there. Have a great week and we'll see you next time.