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Sunday Snippets - Children's Mental Health

NOTE: This post was promoted by Canadian Parents Online for Mental Health Week 2011 - WOOT! :-)

Tidbits of information I picked up this week:

Today marks the launch of Mental Health Week (May 1-7, 2011) in Canada, so, for this week's tidbits I have chosen to focus on Children's Mental Health. For a previous post on mental health in general, click here, or see below (I reposted it this AM):

The Basics:

  • Mental Health is not just an adult concern: 15-20% of Canadian children and youth are affected by a mental disorder. That translates to 4-5 children out of a standard class of 25!
  • Anxiety disorders alone can affect 10% of school age children (i.e: 2-3 of those in the classroom of 25). 
  • In general, the following, should be investigated by a medical professional, if symptoms are present more than 2 weeks (they are more likely to lead to a disorder if they are present for 3-6 weeks or more, so it is best to check it out early): 
    • poor sleep
    • changes in eating
    • loss of interest in regular activities
    • declining grades/poor concentration
    • feelings of worthlessness, sadness, overwhelming fear, etc
    • avoiding people/places
    • constant complaints of physical symptoms such as headaches/tummy aches
    • increased anger & aggression
    • increased irritability
    • NOT all symptoms have to be present - even just one intense or long lasting symptom can indicate a cause for concern. 
Addressing Mental Health in our Families:
  • Seeing signs of mental health issues can be hard enough to address when we see it in ourselves, our spouse or a friend/family member. It is even harder when we see signs in our children. In our fear (of the stigma, of their sadness, of how to cope), we may brush off anxiety as "shyness she'll grow out of", sadness as "just a phase", tummy aches as "not wanting to go to school", headaches as "seeking attention". However, in many children, these can be early signs of mental health issues. 
  • Listen to your children - find the time to talk with them and listen to how they feel, even if it is hard for you to listen to /accept. Don't brush off their feelings or their concerns. Let them know you have their back!
  • A child may tell you it is difficult for them to feel happy or to have fun. They may say they want to hurt themselves (cutting) or die. Try to stay calm - your panic could be perceived as anger. Your child needs to feel safe in their decision to open up!
  • If your child hasn't opened up to you and you are concerned/want to address mental health concerns with your child, try starting off with the physical symptoms - ie: they've had a lot of tummy aches lately or seem tired/numb... State: "I've noticed you seem xx lately. Sometimes we feel that way when we are worried or upset over something. Is anything bothering you?" Pay attention to the answer and make a plan for help. (See Today's Parent article for more ideas & details!)
Seeking Help:
  • The earlier we intervene in a mental health concern, the better for the person involved. If caught early, like with any medical condition, it will be easier to treat and respond sooner to treatment. 
  • Go prepared to any medical appointments - have specifics in the changes in your child's behaviour, i.e.: he cries uncontrollably at school 3X/week on average; he never used to cry but now weeps every night; she no longer is comfortable getting the bus, will not go out to play on the weekends and just stares at the TV, etc. 
  • As with adults, a family history of mental illness can increase the risk of a child's likelihood to suffer from a mental disorder. It may be more or less intense in the child. Have any relevant medical history on hand when you speak to your doctor. 
  • On that note: do not belittle your child's mental health issues because it runs in the family - just because you or Grandpa Joe managed without medical intervention does NOT mean your child can, now or in adulthood!
  • DON'T BE AFRAID OF A LABEL. As Dr. Maddigan say in her book, with any other disease, we would want our child properly diagnosed and for them to receive the appropriate treatment - can you image not wanting to know your child had cancer or diabetes? Not wanting them to receive chemo or insulin? It should be the same with mental health - get the right diagnosis (Anxiety, Depression, OCD, etc.) and then treat it (anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications, cognitive behavioural therapy, talk therapy, etc.). 
  • Likewise: remember this - you wouldn't tell a cancer cell to stop growing, or talk a kidney into working properly. Nor should you expect an anxious child to "shake it off" or a depressed child to "snap out of it". 
  • Go with your gut feeling - you know your child better than anyone else. If something doesn't seem right, seek help. If the diagnosis doesn't fit or things don't improve with the doctor's recommendations, go back or seek a second opinion. Stand up for your child for as long as it takes!
What else you can do:
  • Be open minded. DO NOT CONTINUE THE STIGMA OF MENTAL HEALTH. This is your baby, let him/her know it is a common disorder and do not let them feel ashamed. 
  • Support mental health initiatives locally and nationally. Wear a green ribbon (the colour used to identify the insane in the 1800's!) to show support (available online here).
  • Become knowledgeable! 
    • Visit the Canadian Mental Health Association
    • Check out the Institute of Families and sign up for their newsletter.  
    • Read Inspired Parenting by Dr. Barbara Maddigan for an informative chapter on Childhood Anxiety and Depression. Visit her website here
    • Seek out articles in parenting magazines and websites, like this recent one from Today's Parent
    • Visit the Janeways' Lifestyles Program for information and "playgroups" that can help your child learn to handle their anxieties in social settings.
    • Visit Delicious Delights on Facebook and order a chocolate awareness ribbon: $3 each, wth $2 being donated to the Janeway Child/Adolescent Psychiatric unit!

Resources:Canadian Mental Health Association; "Inspired Parenting" by Barbara Maddigan, MD; Institute of Families"Real Life" by Phil McGraw; "Mental Health - How to Know When There's a Problem" by Lynda Cranston in Today's Parent, May 2011


  1. Thank you for sharing this. It is such important information, and, as you said, it is time that we lifted the stigma surrounding mental health issues and treated them with the same compassion and concern that we treat other health issues.

  2. Yes, I got the analogy from Dr. Maddigan's book - it hit home for me too!
    Thanks for your comment! I think this is a cause we all need to be aware of and support :-)

  3. Tanya18:10

    Thank you for posting this. Many are unaware that mental health affects children as much as adults and that is also can manifest in different ways. The more people that talk about it, the more awareness will be raised. It is something I deal with everyday with some of my children.