Navigating the ups and downs of childhood and adolescence can be a difficult journey for any child or youth. Add to that the challenge of living with a mental health problem or illness -and the negative stereotypes, stigma and isolation that too often come with it - and that journey can quickly become overwhelming.
Children and youth with mental health problems are often worried that they will be judged or even ostracized by their peers. This can prevent them from asking for help and receiving access to mental health supports and services -- supports that can make all the difference in creating a brighter, happier, productive and successful future.
This is why raising awareness and understanding about mental health challenges is so important. May 7 is Child and Youth Mental Health Day in British Columbia, a time to provide hope and support to those who may feel alone and unsupported.
The reality is mental health challenges affect individuals from all walks of life and all parts of the province - our children, parents, neighbours, friends and co-workers.
Mental disorders surpass all other child-health problems in terms of the number of children affected and the degree of impairment. One in seven, or an estimated 130,000 children and youth in B.C. alone, experience mental disorders serious enough to cause significant distress and impair their functioning at home, at school, with peers and in the community. Prevention and early intervention programs - like Friends for Life, a school-based program that teaches children how to manage anxiety in a healthy way - increase awareness and encourage open discussion.
Each of us has a role in supporting children, youth and families facing mental health challenges. On Saturday, May 7, Children and Family Development Minister Mary McNeil will join youth, families, researchers and child and youth mental health professionals across Canada via webcast to discuss a unique initiative being announced by the newly created National Institute of Families for Child and Youth Mental Health. This initiative will be used to identify and endorse programs, practices, policies, services and research that families have identified as meaningful and helpful to them.
Mary McNeil, Minister for Children and Family Development:
"It's essential to the health and well-being of children and youth in our province that we speak openly about this issue - that we work together to reduce the stigma related to mental health problems so that children, youth and families are more comfortable asking for help and have earlier access to appropriate mental health supports and services."
Jessica Bruhn, co-chair, B.C. Family Council for Child and Youth Mental Health:
"When I was younger, the thought of living with mental illness terrified me. This fear had nothing to do with my symptoms, but was in response to the negative judgment I received. Now, whenever I talk candidly about my Tourette's and OCD, I reveal how very normal people with mental health issues really are. Reducing stigma starts at home, and I'm happy to say that by supporting the families of children and youth with mental health issues, we're beginning to eliminate the fear and shame that those children and youth face."
Keli Anderson, executive director, The F.O.R.C.E. Society for Kids' Mental Health:
"The impact of mental health challenges does not live alone with the person affected. It lives in the entire family as everyone is impacted. The F.O.R.C.E. initiated Child and Youth Mental Health Day back in 2007 and, through relationships with families and those working for child and youth mental health, continues to build awareness and seek meaningful change for child and youth mental health."
* The Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) invests approximately $94 million annually to address child and youth mental health (CYMH) and substance use challenges. This includes community child and youth mental health services, youth forensics, youth justice and Maples Adolescent Treatment Centre.
* Currently approximately 20,000 children and youth receive community mental health services annually -double the number that received services at the beginning of the five-year Child and Youth Mental Health Plan for B.C. in 2003.
* On Nov. 1, 2010, the Province released a comprehensive 10-year plan to address mental health and substance use across the lifespan in B.C. - Healthy Minds, Healthy People:
* MCFD led the development of the child and youth portion of the plan in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, other partner ministries and community stakeholders.
* Mental health problems frequently begin early in life, with approximately half starting by age 15 and three-quarters by age 24 - so, the plan places a strong emphasis on identifying challenges early and intervening appropriately to support healthy development and set the stage for a fulfilling and productive life.
* MCFD offers a range of supports and services to prevent and address mental health challenges in children, including the FRIENDS For Life program. This is a school-based prevention program designed to increase resiliency and reduce anxiety for grades 4, 5 and 7 students in B.C. The early years version of the program, Fun FRIENDS, is being implemented in a number of kindergarten and Grade 1 classrooms this year.
For more detailed information on Child and Youth Mental Health programs and services in the province, go to: http://www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/mental_health/.
For further information about FRIENDS in B.C., go to: http://www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/mental_health/friends.htm
For further information about the National Institute of Families for Child and Youth Mental Health, go to:
The Canadian Mental Health Association has released a fact sheet regarding the impacts of stress on children. The fact sheet can be viewed here:
Media Relations Manager
Ministry of Children and Family Development
250 818-4508 (cell)
Connect with the Province of B.C. at: www.gov.bc.ca/connect