Guest Blog Written By: Kim Moran, CEO of Children’s Mental Health Ontario.
Jan. 31, Bell Let’s Talk, is an important day for all of us impacted by mental health. It will be a busy day with many people sharing their experiences in public forums. But there is one voice we are not likely to hear above all others – it’s the voice of Ontario’s children.
That is why I’m asking all of you to raise your voice for children’s mental health, so that kids won’t be forgotten on this day.
As a mom to a child with mental illness, I know how hard it can be. It’s hard to watch our children experience mental illness; and it’s hard to get the right treatment when we need it. When a child suffers from mental illness, the entire family is impacted.
For my family, my daughter’s situation was extreme – at age 11, she became suicidal. Our family was in crisis trying to get the help she needed. We held on tight, trying to get by while we languished on wait lists for publicly funded children’s mental health services. At the same time, I was working and trying to keep my family on track. Within a few short months our daughter tried to die by suicide – it was heartbreaking. We were finally able to get help from highly trained children’s mental health professionals at a publicly funded community agency. But, we shouldn’t have had to wait. No child or youth should have to wait.
My family is fortunate. We still have our struggles, but we have effective coping strategies.
Now, as CEO of Children’s Mental Health Ontario, I speak with so many parents whose children have struggled with mental health. These parents are just like you and me. Thank goodness the vast majority of kids never get as ill as our daughter did.
Sharing and Connecting
One thing I have learned over the years is that when parents share experiences, we are empowered. Not only do we realize we are not alone, but we share advice and ideas.
For me, some of the best advice I received when my own family was struggling was around the importance of spending meaningful time together. It may sound obvious, but it was something that we needed to prioritize. With that in mind, in my family, dinner became almost a sacred ritual.
With busy schedules it is often challenging, but we do our best to make this an important connection time to share our thoughts and feelings. Sometimes we laugh a lot, sometimes we work out problems, sometimes it’s about scheduling, and sometimes it’s about…nothing. But stopping to make time together is so important.
What does your family do to maintain mental wellness and keep your close connections?
Let’s Talk About Anxiety
Anxiety is the most common childhood mental illness. If you have experienced it at any degree, you may be asking: How do you know when it is a problem, especially for a child or teen? When is time for some form of treatment?
If anxiety seriously interferes with a child’s ability to do everyday tasks, such as attending school or hanging out with friends, or they are struggling to concentrate, focus on school work or sleep at night, they may need additional support. Behaviors vary across ages, but signs of a problem may include:
- When the feeling of anxiety is persistent – not just in a period of time of big change
- When the intensity of the child’s responses is outside the norm
- Younger children may have difficulties sleeping, or may be prone to bedwetting, crying, tantrums, protesting separations and not settling after a short period
- Older children may have stomach aches, withdrawal, difficulties sleeping, frequent questioning, need for reassurance from caregivers. They may also avoid attending school
- Teens may show signs of withdrawal from family, friends or activities, spend more time on the computer, alter their sleep patterns, refuse to attend school and/or use drugs or alcohol
Dr. Marjory Phillips, Director of the Integra Program at Child Development Institute, an accredited publicly funded children’s mental health agency in Toronto, has these tips to use to support your child at home:
- Listen to your child or youth’s worries and reflect the feeling before trying to problem-solve or give advice
- Take their concerns seriously while at the same time expressing confidence in his/her strengths
- Recognize that your child’s anxiety may pose challenges to the whole family
- Be open to listening to your child or youth (ask and hear versus talk and tell)
- Express empathy by staying calm and reflect back the child’s thoughts and feelings
- Figure out strengths – when are things better, what helps, who helps, when is it best to talk, etc.
- Resist asking too many “why” questions
If you feel your child or youth’s feelings of anxiety extend beyond the norm and are seriously interfering with the child’s ability to do the tasks of everyday life, consult your family doctor and visit kidsmentalhealth.ca to find a children’s mental health centre near you.
A Crisis in Ontario
Children’s mental healthcare in Ontario is in crisis:
- Suicide is the leading cause of death among Canadians age 15 to 34;
- Families are waiting up to 18 months for treatment;
- For many, publicly funded child and youth mental health services are not available in their community;
- Many never get the help they need.
There are currently insufficient resources to intervene in the early stages of a mental health issue (which is proven to garner the most effective results), and too often, intervention occurs only when children are suicidal and/or reach a crisis.
There are solutions. The Ontario government can fix this by increasing funding to community mental health programs to ensure that no child or young person waits longer than 30 days for mental health treatment, and that they can access treatments in their communities when they need it.
You can help. One easy way to help is to click here http://kidsmentalhealthcantwait.ca/ to send Premier Kathleen Wynne a message and let her know that our #kidscantwait for mental healthcare.