Mental health for children and youth

Reducing stigma from mental illness and getting the family support you need.

  • Feb. 26, 2015 12:00 p.m.

Submitted by Dr. David Smith

When a child or teenager is diagnosed with a serious illness like cancer or organ failure, friends and neighbours often drop off casseroles or ask how they can help. The community rallies around the effected family to buoy them with support in their time of need.

Not so — at least until now — when the diagnosis is a mental health issue. In fact, parents often say that their journey through the medical system, education, and social services, as well as society at large, with a child or youth with a mental health issue is one of the most lonely, isolating and emotionally difficult journey they have ever faced.

“My daughter’s struggle with severe depression was more difficult for me than my husband’s sudden death,” said one mother, who is a family representative in the Interior’s Child and Youth Mental Health Collaborative. “After he died, people brought food, came by to watch my kids, let me cry and talk. When my daughter got ill, people stayed far away, but I needed more support than ever.”

Keli Anderson, co-founder of the Families Organized for Recognition and Care Equality Society for Kids’ Mental Health (F.O.R.C.E) knows that experience well. Her young son began showing behavioural problems and mental health issues 22 years ago at the age of five, which turned out to be very early-onset bipolar disorder. Anderson felt shamed, blamed and completely on her own to navigate confusing and uncompassionate systems and an indifferent society. So the B.C. mother, along with another mother facing the same challenges started The F.O.R.C.E. (forcesociety.com) to provide support, information, understanding and advocacy for families with children and youth with mental health issues. One of their popular and very helpful programs is the “Parent In Residence” and “Youth in Residence” positions in various regions, staffed by individuals with lived experience in child and youth mental health who help those just encountering the system, or any way along their journey.

Thanks to the work of organizations like The F.O.R.C.E. — which truly has become a force in B.C. for family support and advocacy — as well as the growth of other support organizations, families are no longer so alone. Youth and families are also front and centre in the Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use collaborative, which started in the Interior a year ago and is now expanding to Vancouver Island. Jointly funded by the B.C. government and Doctors of BC, the Collaborative is bringing families and youth together with a wide array of B.C. mental health professionals, including clinicians from the Ministry of Children and Family Development, physicians, school counsellors, community agencies, the RCMP and more. Together the more than 200 members of the collaborative are working to improve timely access and integration of child and youth mental health services in the province by working on local action teams in various communities, and finding solutions to system barriers through Working Groups. This series of seven columns is part of the work to improve mental health awareness and reduce barriers to care.

Fortunately, the unnecessary stigma that has surrounded mental illness for decades is finally beginning to lessen. An increasing number of articulate, compassionate and public individuals are coming forward to tell their personal stories of life with a mental illness. Public individuals like Olympic athlete Clara Hughes, CBC radio host Sheilagh Rogers, actress Catherine Zeta Jones and comedian Robin Williams have all raised awareness and understanding, and reduced stigma to unprecedented levels.

Youth, too, are coming forward in schools and communities to share their experiences and help others make the path less isolating. This growing openness and recognition is helping all of us understand that mental illness touches us all and that fostering mental wellness is a task for every one of us.

The Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Collaborative has received funding through to 2016 and is determined to make the experience for youth and families much more timely, efficient, effective and less isolating. While we still have a ways to go, with increased education and awareness, better integration of services, more family support and advocacy, as well as reduced levels of stigma, the future is growing ever brighter for children, youth and families experiencing mental health issues.

Just Posted

Tourism Fernie hosts annual general meeting

Last Thursday, Tourism Fernie held its annual general meeting, which was well… Continue reading

Timber Chair to undergo makeover

A popular chairlift at Fernie Alpine Resort (FAR) will run more smoothly… Continue reading

Fernie public works yard set for complete overhaul

City of Fernie considers $5m overhaul of aging public works buildings; awards design contract

Teck to compensate Sparwood residents for dust

House cleaning among mitigation measures pitched by focus group; plus former Mayor joins SCEEAC

Delays dash hopes of Fernie curling season

Leaky floor fix takes longer than expected; City offers to extend ice plant operation for bonspiel

VIDEO: 13-year-old killed in B.C. crash that involved five kids

The children range in age from six to 17.

Fernie Ghostriders host annual banquet, present player awards

MVP of the season was awarded to Brendan Nemes

Elk Valley swimmers set records at provincials

Five senior athletes from the Elk Valley Dolphins Swim Club qualified for the Kamloops competition

In a fight against cancer, Victoria man’s only stem cell match was his own donation

More mixed race and Asian stem cell donors needed, says Victoria family

MPs denounce leaked reports of Trudeau-JWR clash over Supreme Court pick

Opposition MPs called the leaks an act of desperation meant to smear Wilson-Raybould

Study says B.C.’s housing policies mean drug users can be targeted for eviction

The study involves 50 people living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

VIDEO: Homicide team called in after three killed in Surrey car crash

Investigators ask public to come forward with information, dashcam video

Stranger climbs onto B.C. family’s second-floor balcony, lights fire in barbecue

Incident in Abbotsford terrifies family with two-year-old boy

UPDATED: Sailings resume after BC Ferries boat hits Langdale terminal

The Queen of Surrey is stuck on the dock, causing delays to Horseshoe Bay trips

Most Read