Runners at the start of a race. The second annual Defeat Depression Walk/Run for Mental Health takes place May 12. (Bob Friesen/Black Press File)

COLUMN: Parents need to get informed about mental health illnesses

Just like basic first aid and keeping them physically healthy, we need to support our kids mentally

You’re overreacting.

You’re crazy.

Just settle down.

Don’t panic.

Don’t be so dramatic.

We’ve all said these things. And sometimes, they’re perfectly valid sentiments. Yes, some people are over dramatic. Some people do over react. Some people do needlessly worry.

But more often than not, someone’s panic, worry, fear or sadness has a deeper root that needs love and attention — not a lecture. I was reminded of this need to consider the mental health of others recently, while attending a Chilliwack School District youth-led mental health awareness event.

Several of the 100 teens in attendance noted that one of the barriers to mental health help they experience is adults who don’t believe in mental health.

That’s right. Adults who don’t believe in mental health.

They referred to parents who look past signs of depression and just see lazy teens. Parents who don’t believe mental health illnesses actually exist, and parents who can’t imagine their child is experiencing one. They mentioned teachers who think needing mental breaks is an excuse to wander the halls. Counsellors who think they’re overreacting to get out of class.

Now, I’m a mom of three young adults. I have to admit, it’s incredibly hard to tease apart the actions of a teenager who is moping around to decipher if they are just tired and under the constant dread about the future, or if there is something more to the story. Teenagers are pushing themselves hard to fill up their resumes with volunteer work, extra curricular achievements, small business ventures and work experience, on top of juggling academics. It’s exhausting just thinking about it.

And then think about this. Some kids — I would say many kids — struggle just to get to school each day. They carry the weight of a mental health issue with them everywhere like an invisible beast. They’re still expected to succeed. They’re expected to contribute to conversations in class as if nothing is wrong. They’re expected to be cheerful with friends. To get picked for the team. To be a leader, not a follower. To be a success, if not in every way then at least in one.

And admittedly, it’s hard to know if the kid who is failing to thrive is doing it for attention, or because they really are lazy, if there’s a learning barrier, or if there is a mental health issue gnawing away inside of them.

But it is irresponsible not to consider mental health issues when dealing with kids and teenagers. It’s irresponsible to ignore the pleas of a child or teenager who is showing signs of a mental illness. And just like we know the baseline for a fever, the signs of communicable disease, and how to administer basic first aid or call an ambulance, all parents, caregivers and educators should know the signs of mental health illnesses.

This is Mental Health Week in Canada, and the Canadian Mental Health Association is working to get this basic information out to the public.

“Mental health is a state of well-being, and we all have it,” their website states. “We might have a mental illness, and we might not. Either way, we can all feel well. We can all have good mental health.”

They have articles on how mental health is just like physical health. Just as a physically-fit person can have a broken leg, a mentally-fit person can have a mental health issue. People can have long-term mental health illnesses, and short ones.

And just like physical ailments, there is help to get through a mental health crisis. But it sometimes takes that village we talk about to identify it first.

There are countless ways these days to learn about mental health. Step one could be talking to your family doctor. There is also a nurse line in B.C., available anytime by dialing 8-1-1.

You can also call 310Mental Health Support at 310-6789 (no area code needed) for emotional support, information and resources specific to mental health. Then there is the long-running Kid’s Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868, staffed by professional counsellors, 24 hours a day.

To learn more about mental health online, visit www.healthlinkbc.ca/mental-health or BC Mental Health.

Of course, mental health issues affect people of all ages, and the number of resources are growing all the time.

They include the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation, the Mental Health Commission, and Here to Help.

Finally, if you or someone else is in a crisis, call 9-1-1. It’s not an overreaction. It’s not overly dramatic. It’s a way towards the help that is needed.

Jessica Peters is a reporter at the Chilliwack Progress.


@CHWKcommunity
jpeters@theprogress.com

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