There are still, unfortunately, stigmas attached to mental health issues – which is why the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) since 1951 has brought us Mental Health Week.
Observed between May 2 and 8 this year, the purpose of this week is to break down barriers, inform people of symptoms and signs, and provide supports to those in need.
Mental illness doesn’t just affect adults; one in every five youth in Canada lives with a mental health issue.
Partners for Mental Health, an organization active in transforming the way Canadians think about mental health, addresses these issues to students, teachers and parents.
Recently, Partners for Mental Health were on hand at St. Brendan Catholic Elementary School, St. Brigid Catholic Elementary School and St. Mark Catholic Elementary School Friday, April 8, to discuss this concern with students and teachers.
Another workshop was held Tuesday April 12 at St. Mark Catholic Elementary School, which parents and their children could attend.
The topics discussed were the various forms of mental health issues, what causes children to suffer from them, and signs parents are to look out for.
“Living with a young person (with mental illness) can be a stressful time for parents; their child’s attitudes can change so suddenly from friendly and agreeable to difficult strangers,” said Guilana Malvestuto-Flice, PhD, a psychologist with the York Catholic District School Board.
Most of the time, she said, this is just a natural part of growing up; though other times it can point to something more serious “such as ADHD, anxiety or depression, and it can affect them from going to school and making friends.”
Malvestuto-Flice said there are ways in which parents can appropriately handle their child who may be suffering.
“It’s important to create a relaxing environment for your kids, provide predictability and try avoiding making them defensive,” she said. “They want to know that you are there for them when they need you.”
Malvestuto-Flice said it’s important that parents also talk to their child’s doctor.
“They are an expert at what they do. Parents who do their own research may find incomplete or inaccurate medical and health information,” she said. “As parents, it’s our responsibilities to observe our children, and listen and watch to what they say and do, and get them the proper help.”
Rosaleigh Neal, Grade 2 French immersion teacher for St. Brendan Catholic Elementary School was at the workshop to talk about her new children’s book coming out, Davey the Deer: Let’s Talk about Depression, co-written with Dr. Grace Vitale.
“This book tackles the issue of depression in children,” Neal said. “You are seeing this problem in children a lot.”
Depression is no stranger to Neal.
“When I was in university, I suffered from anxiety, which lead to depression. It was very troubling. Luckily there were resources for me to deal with this as an adult.”
Though, children don’t know how to get help, Neal added. “It’s important that parents and teachers get the help for them, and engage the children to be observant as well, and ask for help when they feel something is wrong.”
She said parents should look out for a child who shows any of the following traits:
- Feels very unhappy
- Blames themselves for things beyond their control
- Changes in their school performance