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

Elkford reflects on town’s history

Canada 150 grant given to showcase young town’s past

B.C. to review 2017 flooding, wildfire seasons

Emergency Management B.C. needs better response, Premier John Horgan says

Couple launches Kombucha company

Fernie Alpine Springs – kombucha so pure, you might as well chop… Continue reading

Sparwood Planning wants offices downtown

Council hears concerns from business owners with offices in industrial area

Local artists support youth at Island Lake Lodge Gala

Art auction and gala event raises over $20,000 for Emily Brydon Youth Foundation

VIDEO: Best photos of the Supermoon 2017

At its closest, the Frost Moon was about 363,300 km away from the Earth

Site C decision coming Monday

Premier John Horgan to announce fate of dam project at B.C. legislature

VIDEO: Vancouver Whitecaps acquire star striker Kei Kamara

Kamara has 103 goals and 39 assists in 298 appearances over 11 Major League Soccer seasons

Smartphone pedometers underestimate steps, but valuable health tool: study

UBC researchers found the iPhone underestimated steps by 21.5 per cent

VIDEO: ‘Last Jedi’ premiere kicks off with droids, Daisy Ridley

Latests Star Wars film premiered in style ahead of Dec. 15 theatre debut

UPDATE: Poor ventilation likely cause of carbon monoxide incident at B.C. farm

All 42 patients have been released from hospital, according to Delta Fire

BC Lions part ways with three coaches

These are the first personnel moves made by new general manager Ed Hervey

VIDEO: B.C. to end geographic area rent increases, close fixed-term lease loopholes

Both clauses allowed landlords to raise rents above the max annual allowable rent increase

Most Read