Meet Dr. David Hong, the resident psychiatrist at ParentLab. Board certified in Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, he works with families who are dealing with neurodevelopmental disorders that range from learning disorders and ADHD to autism and genetic conditions. He found his way to ParentLab after CEO Jill Li visited the Stanford campus and shared the company’s mission for evidence-based approaches to child development – and he’s been participating as an expert for HelloJoey ever since.
Dr. Hong also is an Assistant Professor at Stanford’s Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Center for Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Research, where he teaches child psychiatry fellows to become practicing psychiatrists and conducts research on developmental neuroscience. “We’re making incredible gains in understanding incredibly complex human systems, like the brain or our genes, and in developing tools and methodologies – like gene therapy,” he enthuses. “I’m hopeful that some of this work will translate over to serious mental health conditions in childhood so that we can truly make lasting change in kids’ lives.”
To help you get to know Dr. Hong, we asked him a few brainteasers – along with what question he’s most commonly asked by parents. He says everyone wants to know if something is wrong with their kids because they do this or that, but, as he explains, “there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with a behavior; behaviors are a sign of a mix of factors ranging from the child themselves, dynamics in the family, and their environment.” Now that he’s set your mind at ease, read on to hear Dr. Hong’s thoughts about fatty fish, the future of psychiatry, and cutting yourself some slack – and find out exactly why his kids don’t believe his job counts as “work” at all.
What excites you most about psychiatry and mental wellness?
This is an incredibly exciting time to be involved with psychiatry. There is a much greater appreciation for how important mental wellness is, and more people are engaged and interested in improving their own mental health. Our understanding of the brain and the science behind complex human behavior is growing exponentially, and our ability to develop treatments for serious mental illness in the foreseeable future seems closer than ever.
What one thing should parents know about their child’s development?
The main thing across all age groups is an appreciation for how rapidly things are changing. One of the most exciting things about being a parent is seeing how dynamically things change in such a short period of time. It gives you a much greater appreciation for how you may need to consider the different developmental tasks that are appropriate for one age or another.
Are there any “mood-boosting” foods that have been proven to support mental health?
There is actually a good amount of data supporting omega three fatty acids in a number of mental health conditions. These fatty acids are primarily found in fish – so keep eating that salmon regularly!
What’s a surprising fact about kids and mental health?
If someone is going to have a psychiatric disorder in their lifetime, approximately half of those symptoms will emerge by adolescence and roughly three-fourths will be evident by young adulthood (early 20s). This underscores the importance of child and adolescent development.
Is there a best or most important thing we can do for our own – and for our kids’ – mental wellbeing?
A parent’s self care is an important part of their child’s wellbeing, as well. Being the best version of themselves for their child often involves in taking care of themselves, and everyone has different ways of strengthening their own resilience – whether it’s exercise, meditation, or therapy. Parenting also benefits from reflection and self-forgiveness. We all make parenting ‘mistakes,’ but being thoughtful about those moments and using each moment positively for the next improves the relationship with our children.
Will you share a funny story or misconception involving you and psychiatry?
I have a bunch of toys in my office. When my kids were younger, they would ask me if my job is to play with kids all day for ‘work’ while they’re at school. At the time, they thought that was grossly unfair!
It does relate more largely to a common misconception about child psychiatry. There are often some anxieties about what it means to get treatment, ranging anywhere from lying on a couch to getting shots. In reality, a lot of what happens in the office is, in fact, play – and engaging with a child. And these are all activities that can be re-created at home as well.