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30 Jan, Monday
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Montreal Families

Is your child’s mental health ok?

As a parent, I wanted to do the best job possible, so I spent a great deal of time reading and researching everything from vaccine safety and schools to summer camps and extracurricular activities.  I expected that my children would get sick occasionally and I was as prepared as anyone to deal with the usual childhood behaviours like tantrums, arguments over messy rooms and a certain amount of sibling rivalry.

But then came a very dark and frightening period when my child began struggling with depression and anxiety. The signs and symptoms started slowly, leaving us confused and afraid. We finally sought help — probably something we should have done sooner — and thanks to a team of mental health professionals, life is much better for all of us.

According to a new survey by the RBC Children’s Mental Health Project, 69 per cent of Quebec parents are at least moderately concerned about the mental health of their children. However, most will simply monitor behaviours that can actually be early indicators of problems, rather than seeking advice or treatment, either because they don’t understand the risks or they worry about the stigma still associated with mental illness. Another obstacle is simply the wait times associated with getting services or the steep cost when families opt to pay for private therapy sessions.

The survey also indicated that there is a lack of overall awareness about children’s mental health. More than three-quarters of parents thought that Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is the most common children’s mental health issue facing children and youth in Canada. In fact, it is anxiety, followed by conduct disorders and then ADD.

Dr. David Wolfe, psychologist and RBC chair in Children’s Mental Health at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, says families need more information about mental health issues. “It’s absolutely crucial for parents, doctors and teachers to have a basic level of mental health IQ so they can recognize the warning signs if a child is struggling at an early age,” he says. “Most problems start in childhood or adolescence, and the good news is that many children improve with early intervention and treatment, allowing them to get back to their regular activities and lead healthy lives.”

The RBC Children’s Mental Health Project, which supports community and hospital-based programs to help families with these issues, has created a website, www.rbc.com/childrensmentalhealth, where parents can find useful information, including a quiz to test your “mental health IQ” and a list of  websites, articles and books that provide information on issues like anxiety, depression, eating disorders and more.

As parents, we can’t ignore the research that suggests one in five young people will experience a mental health problem serious enough to impact their every day lives. What I know now is this: if you are worried about your child’s mental health, speak up. Ask for help. Do it sooner rather than later. Do it for your kids and their future. There is nothing to lose, except our fears about mental health and illness.

Warning signs & symptoms

Mental illness is a term that encompasses anything from anxiety and depression to conduct disorders and schizophrenia. Each of these disorders will have its own symptoms and treatments. However, there are some common warning signs that parents shouldn’t ignore. If even one or two of these signs persists for a few weeks, talk to a doctor or other health professional:

  • decrease in enjoyment and time spent with friends or family
  • significant drop in school work and performance
  • strong resistance to attending school or absenteeism
  • problems with memory, attention or concentration
  • big changes in eating or sleeping patterns and/or
  • energy levels
  • lots of physical symptoms (stomachaches, headaches, etc.)
  • feelings of hopelessness, sadness, anxiety or crying a lot
  • frequent aggression, disobedience or lashing out verbally
  • excessive neglect of personal appearance or basic hygiene
  • substance use
  • dangerous or illegal thrill seeking behaviours
  • acting overly suspicious of others
  • seeing or hearing things that others don’t see or hear

(Taken from the website http://heretohelp.bc.ca.)

If mental illness has led to a family crisis (for example, you feel your child’s anger is out of control), you can reach the CAFE (Crise-Ado-Famille-Enfance) program 365 days a year from 3 p.m to 10 p.m. by calling Info Santé at 811. The CAFE team will send someone to help deal with the situation within two hours of receiving a phone call. The program helps families with children ages 5 to 17 find short-term solutions to the crisis as well as long-term treatment and support.

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