Making a Difference in the World of Children’s Mental Health.

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Love that today The Duchess of Cambridge (or also known as Princess Kate) was highlighted as the guest editor for the UK edition of the Huffington Post. She was enlisted to bring attention to the #YoungLivesMatter edition of the website highlighting the issue of children’s mental health, an often neglected area of health care and education systems around the world. This new initiative seeks to encourage individuals of all walks of life to join in on the conversation surrounding mental health, particularly young individuals in ensuring that they are able to feel loved, secure, valued, and understood. Articles in this section will seek to help combat the stigma that is often associated with mental health issues (particularly in children) and discuss the causes and potential solutions that could be used to fight this health crisis.

Research has shown that mental health issues often start early.  In the United Kingdom, one young person in 10 is estimated to experience some form of emotional or mental health problem each year. These problems become significantly worse as the age demographics move up towards post-secondary education, with approximately 1 in 5 (in Canada) reporting some form of mental health issue (ex anxiety, depression, etc). Furthermore, half of young adults with mental health disorders first experience difficulties before they are 15.

As pointed out my the Duchess in her blog post today:

“What I did not expect was to see that time and time again, the issues that led people to addiction and destructive decision making seemed to almost always stem from unresolved childhood challenges……children – even those younger than five – have to deal with complex problems without the emotional resilience, language or confidence to ask for help. And it was also clear that with mental health problems still being such a taboo, many adults are often too afraid to ask for help for the children in their care. ”

Why are our systems reacting so slow to addressing these problems? Children are supposedly “our hope for the future”, yet we are failing many of the children in giving them a successful head start in developing healthy coping mechanisms.

Although not all forms of mental illness have specific cures, preventative efforts are crucial to giving people the support they need to live functional and fulfilling lives. We are all well aware the economic impact that mental illness has, yet for many who choose to seek help it if often mission impossible to even get on the waiting list for help. In Canada and the United States there is emerging concern about a shortage of child psychiatrists that is predicted to get worse. Even more alarming, a 1999 study indicated that there were 6,148 children with mental health needs per child psychologist in Ontario. Keeping in mind, there are only approximately 2,000 psychologists in ALL of Ontario. Even worse, in all of rural Ontario (a MASSIVE plot of land) there were only 21 practicing psychiatrists serving rural Ontario (Bazana, 1999). HUH??? I am well aware of the dilemmas of trying to recruit physicians to remote and rural areas, but we need to find ways to encourage more people to serve these populations. Mandatory rural/remote medical placements should be encouraged, possibly even another Northern medical school with a mandatory placement time up north should be encouraged. For many these are not ideal places to live, but as someone serving the medical community these people are in need of care and for many living on the reserves there is a dire need for more medical professionals and psychologists to address these long-standing problems.

We as a society need to do more to train a variety of individuals with how to identify and help those who may be struggling to navigate our often complex and fragmented system.  In the UK alone, more than 15,000 people working in a variety of schools have been trained as mental health first aiders. An excellent program to help spot potential warning signs and a method to provide children with access to an initial support system and guide in obtaining the resources needed to help them.

As Michelle Obama put it in her comission blog post for the Young Minds Matter edition:

“Sadly, too often, the stigma around mental health prevents people who need help from seeking it. But that simply doesn’t make any sense. Whether an illness affects your heart, your arm or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there shouldn’t be any distinction. We would never tell someone with a broken leg that they should stop wallowing and get it together…..We shouldn’t treat mental health conditions any differently. Instead, we should make it clear that getting help isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of strength – and we should ensure that people can get the treatment they need.”

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