“Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what it’s like for you right now?”
That's always the first question posed to families with children and youth who are struggling with mental-health issues, said Keli Anderson, founder of FamilySmart. That's how the connection and relief start.
May 7, 2018, is National Child and Youth Mental Health Day, and Anderson, who also founded the day, knows first-hand how important self-care is when families are struggling with a child’s mental health. That’s why this year’s theme — self-care for children, youth, parents/caregivers and service providers — resonates with her organization’s mandate.
FamilySmart has a network of parents and youth around the province, referred to as Parents in Residence (PiRs) and Youth in Residence (YiRs). They work with families who want to know more, and do more, about mental-health issues affecting their loved ones. Young people and families connect with FamilySmart staff by phone, email or in-person to share what they are looking for, seek emotional support from a peer or get information on resources or tools to help them navigate the complex system of child and youth mental-health services in B.C.
Anderson said, “We have no exclusion criteria, no waitlists, no fees and no filling out of in-take forms.”
She thinks back almost 25 years to when her son, James, was in the throes of a battle she couldn’t get help to explain. “He wasn’t able to function. He couldn’t go to school. He couldn’t be away from us. We were alone and feeling desperate.” James was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder at just 10 years old.
Anderson knew there must be other families experiencing the same frustrations. When she agreed to a feature story on Global News, she got pushback from other parents who could not believe she would put her family on television.
When the story aired, Donna Murphy, whose son, Kelly, died by suicide at age 18, felt compelled to reach out to Anderson. Together, they founded what would become FamilySmart in 1999, under the name The F.O.R.C.E. Society for Kids’ Mental Health.
Anderson’s story also resonated with Marlisse McRobie, whose son, Braeden, would have major meltdowns and was violent toward other kids. McRobie emailed a name she found off the FamilySmart website and got a response right away. “That email changed our path,” McRobie said.
Braeden is now 21, has graduated from high school and has a full-time job as a server. He is considering returning to school to study psychology. Anderson said James is turning 30 this year and has a full-time job, is in a long-term relationship and is happy.
These moms know that there are many more kids and parents out there who need help, and FamilySmart is there for them. All they need to do is make that first, important phone call.
- FamilySmart, which received $1 million from the Ministry of Children and Family Development in 2018-19, is a non-profit that provides emotional support, training and resources to families who are living with children and youth struggling with mental-health and/or substance-use issues in British Columbia.
- For more information on FamilySmart, call toll free: 1 855 887-8004, or visit: www.familysmart.ca
- Learn about government and partner resources for child and teen mental health: www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content?id=2A94E68296D14113970C05B4257E8099