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"I don't know anyone with a mental health disorder"

Updated: Oct 28, 2018

Studies directly link childhood anxiety to depression later in life.
In any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experience a mental illness or addiction problem
70% of mental health problems have their onset during childhood or adolescence.
Young people aged 15 to 24 are more likely to experience mental illness and/or substance use disorders than any other age group
By age 25, approximately 20% of Canadians will have developed a mental illness (70% will NOT get help)
50% of people will suffer a mental health/addiction disorder by the time they are 40.

Stats taken from: Center for Addiction and Mental Health

"I don't know anyone with a mental health disorder". I have heard these words spoken more then a few times. But I have also been surrounded by people, personally and professionally, who have and ARE suffering through a mental health disorder. Some silently, some vocally. But if the people we encounter daily do not open our eyes to the prevalence of this often unspoken health issue, by looking at the stats above, we quickly realize that we ALL know someone who is or has suffered a mental illness. As a parents, more concerning to me is the likelihood of our children knowing someone, or being someone, who will suffer through a mental health disorder.

I think sometimes we imagine a person who is suffering with depression, anxiety, bipolar, or any of the other mental health issues that are prevalent in today's society, as what I like to call, that "end product": someone who has fallen through the cracks unsupported for a long time, and has hit rock bottom, potentially over and over again. That "aggressive adolescent who bullied my kids who we aren't surprised dropped out of school and got in trouble with the law." That "bad" mom who lies in bed all day, unable to care for herself or her children and uses alcohol to numb her pain...her poor kids". " That man sleeping on the streets begging for change and a cigarette who uses drugs to forget about his sadness". We can't relate to that "end product" we envision when we imagine someone suffering through depression, anxiety or any other disease that affects our mind and, therefor, body.

The stats tell us that 70% of mental health problems have their onset during childhood or adolescence but that ONLY 1/5 of those adolescents will receive appropriate supports. So when we see that person we think we can't relate to, we cannot forgot that those people-hurting and ashamed, were once children, also likely, hurting and ashamed. Children- I think we can ALL relate to children and the necessity of supporting them.

As Dr. Gabor Mate from Vancouver's East Hastings, says in his book, "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts":

"We readily feel for a suffering child, but cannot see the child in the adult who, his soul fragmented and isolated, hustles for survival a few blocks away from where we shop at work"

They too, were once children, like the rest of us who "don't know anyone with a mental health disorder". They got shy and wrapped their tiny arms around their parents legs and needed encouraging when meeting a stranger, like the rest of us. They got anxious and needed their parents reassurance when going off to school for the first time, like the rest of us. LIKE THE REST OF US.

"Science tells us that the experiences we have in the earliest years of our life actually change brain architecture in lasting ways. That has consequences across the lifespan for physical health and mental health, including addiction. It’s up to all of us to help kids in our communities develop strong brain architecture, and to support families where someone is struggling with a health problem related to negative early experiences...

Alberta family Wellness Initiative goes on to explain how negative early childhood experiences change our children's brains in a way that makes it difficult for them to cope with stress and predisposes them to mental health disorders later in life. Most alarming to me, as a parent, and someone who wants the best possible future for ALL our children, is that the negative impact may stay regardless of if you permanently remove the stressor once those changes in the brain are made, and can still inhibit healthy brain development. Included in those negative experiences are obvious things such as abuse and trauma, but also neglect.

Through their Brain Story certificate, Alberta Family Wellness states that:

"Serve and return works like a game of tennis or volleyball between child and caregiver. The child “serves” by reaching out for interaction—with eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, babbling, or touch. A responsive caregiver will “return the serve” by speaking back, playing peekaboo, or sharing a toy or a laugh...What happens when a child serves and no one steps up to return the ball? Over time, failing to respond when a child reaches out will weaken brain architecture and impair the development of skills and abilities, behavior, and health".

Although that "end result", (that person we feel we cannot relate to), which we are accustomed to associating with mental health continues to need our supports, if we start with our children, now-today, we can help change the outcome of those suffering at a younger age. It is in the best interest of our current neighborhoods, of our city's future, and of all our children's livelihoods to have the right resources and the right supports in place to ensure the success of each person in our city.

In an attempt "to not only serve but solve today's social issues", The Social Impact Lab was developed in collaboration with United Way and J5. Currently, the are gathering our stories, the most important data, in an attempt to help find solutions and resources for our children and youth requiring mental health supports (see stats above, that's all of us!). Please head to their site, sign up, and help them find solutions that benefit us all.

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