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Montreal Families

Camp for kids who have a family member with a mental illness

A free, week-long therapeutic summer camp program in the West Island is offering support for school-aged children living with a loved one who has a mental health issue.

Designed for children between 7 and 12, Anna Camp aims to provide self-help tools, peer support and art therapy to help kids build coping skills. This year’s camp is offered from June 25-28 from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Registration is required as places are limited.

Anna Camp is run by Beaconsfield-based Friends for Mental Health, a nonprofit organization that has offered free, bilingual support for children and adults living with mental illness for 35 years.

The program is adapted from an eight-week, after-school program developed by Quebec author Rebecca Heinisch, who wrote the picture book Anna and the Sea to explain mental illness to young children. The story and characters from the book are incorporated within the curriculum of the camp and after-school program.

According to art therapist Jaimie Byrne, a counsellor in the program, children with parents, siblings or other close family members who struggle with mental health need support to understand what’s going on, but may not feel they have someone to turn to who will understand.

“The topic is very taboo,” Byrne said. “Kids learn at an early age that it’s not something they can talk about with teachers or peers, but we break that taboo and talk to them about mental health so it’s not so scary or negative.”

In Canada, as many as one in five people will be diagnosed with a mental illness at least once in their lives. Of those, 71 per cent will be parents of one or more children.

Byrne said adults often don’t want to discuss mental health issues with kids, because they don’t want to burden them or cause concern. But the approach can backfire, she said, because children often do pick up that something is wrong, and may imagine much worse scenarios than what’s actually happening. “Talking about it within the family and being open is key,” Byrne said.

Byrne noted that the camp is just one of the free services offered by Friends for Mental Health. “The camp is a great starting point but these kids need a lot more work than just four days,” she said. “Families can call us at any point in the year and get services.”

The camp will be held at #121-186 Sutton Place.

For more information or to register, call 514-636-6885 or visit asmfmh.org/services/youth-section.

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