Did you know that a staggering 3.2 million Canadian youth ages 12-19 are at risk of developing depression? Our own children are among this group. What can we do about their mental health?
In a recent project with the Canadian Institute of Health Research, I facilitated workshops across Canada bringing together technology vendors, academic researchers, health practitioners and youth with “lived experience” to explore how we can improve the “patient journey” for at risk youth.
During this project, I got to speak to several brave youth about their experiences battling mental health issues. One young lady shared with me how, after a traumatic break up with her boyfriend, she began to hear voices and suffer from nightmares. Her friends at work observed dramatic changes in her health and encouraged her to seek help. Another shared how just as she was beginning to receive the help she needed from the pediatric healthcare system, she turned 18 and suddenly found herself in a whole new health care system that she did not understand how to navigate. Fortunately, she did receive the help she needed and has now become a famous advocate for youth mental health.
Here’s what really struck me during this project: We are facing a crisis with mental illness. Our youth are especially vulnerable because they often don’t have the inner resources to cope. Nor do we have enough health care and community supports that our young people need. As youth begin to experience problems coping with life, they are often reluctant to confide in the very people who are best able to help them – their parents.
There are reasons for their reluctance. They may be scared to go to their parents. It can be hard for a child to admit to their parents that they are having trouble. They may be afraid of the reaction they will get or what their parents will do. They may be ashamed, worried they will disappoint their parents, or they may not even understand what is happening to them or why it is happening. It’s equally hard and frightening for parents, to see something wrong with your child and not know how to reach out and offer help or where to find it.
The same way adults have trouble coping with signs of depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness, so do our children. We adults have trouble dealing with the stigma around mental illness but so do our children. While we may not be able to prevent the illness from developing, we can do many things to help them reach out to us when they feel bad about their lives. One way to is to make sure our communication with our children is open and that they know they can confide in us. Our society is moving so fast that we don’t always see what’s right in front of us. One of the themes I heard repeatedly as I listened to the youth was the need to feel connected, to feel part of a community.
Connection happens when we take the time to listen to one another. Family connections are very powerful sources of support and strength when someone goes through difficult times. How are the children in your life? Can they talk to you? Have you hugged and affirmed them lately? How connected is your family to one another? Family connections, and positive, affirmative actions, encouragement and support are good for our children’s mental health and for our own as well.
Dealing with a child who struggles with his or her demons is hard for the child and hard for the parents too. This is a tough issue that no one should have to struggle with alone.
Just remember that CAPS has a Peer Support Program. If you have a child who suffers from mental illness, you are not alone. If you need someone to talk to, reach out to the Peer Support Program. We’re here for you!