Author: Karen Copeland
After a series of interviews last week with CBC Radio and CFAX 1070 radio, then reading yet more personal stories from families regarding the lack of mental health services and supports, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. I keep wondering when we are going to reach the tipping point, where things start to move away from talking toward creating action that results in change for children, youth and families in our communities.
In my interview with Joe Perkins from CFAX 1070, I said:
This is not just a provincial issue. It is a national issue. The challenges families are facing in this province are not unique, they are occurring across the board across Canada. This is also a community issue, and we need to be asking our municipalities why there are certain segments of kids in our communities that are unable to attend local parks and recreation programming because staff are not trained in how to support them.
The challenges and barriers families are facing of course, are many. There is still a great deal of stigma and judgment towards kids who behave in unexpected ways and their families. Instead of assuming parents are not doing anything to support their child, we need to realize that in many, many instances they are doing a LOT. Yet, they face barriers such as:
- not meeting a mandate for a service due to diagnosis or lack of diagnosis
- being placed on a waitlist for service (#BellLetsTalk about access to child psychiatry services. Would people sit quietly if it took that long to access a pediatric oncologist?)
- limited access to assessments and therapies beyond private pay – which creates a two tiered system where those who can pay out of pocket do, and those who cannot are left to languish
- school placements are breaking down due to lack of funding to ensure appropriate supports are provided, as well as school staff not having the training necessary to understand and support diverse learning needs
- services required do not exist or are not available in the community
- lack of access to care during acute crisis, including being dismissed or denied access in emergency rooms
- medications prescribed may be extremely expensive and not covered by benefit plans
- families who have kids who have complex mental health challenges are unable to access respite support unless they place their child in foster care
- parents and caregivers are left to act as case managers, coordinating services within multiple systems of care
- parents and caregivers who advocate for their child or youth are often characterized as angry, unreasonable, too sensitive, overly anxious or helicopter parents, yet at the same time are told they are the child’s only advocate.
- parents and caregivers are left to defend their children in the very systems that say they embrace the inclusion of all children.
So what can we do to create the tipping point? Well, we can start by thinking about how we can each make a difference for children, youth and families in our communities. We can start from the basic foundation that we believe our voices can and will make a difference.
Extend kindness and curiosity towards youth and families in your community. Understand you likely don’t and won’t know their whole story. Assume they have done everything they need to try and get assistance, instead of assuming they have not.
What is your passion? Is it education? Write a letter to the Ministry of Education, your provincial representatives and your school board demanding more training for school staff, as well as increased funding to provide supports for students who need them.
Is it community inclusion? Write a letter to your city council advocating for increased training of program staff so all kids can attend. Ask your local faith community what they are doing to support families who have kids who have mental health challenges.
Is it improved access to services? Write a letter to your provincial representative demanding more programs and services to support families in your community. Join a community committee to share your voice and your ideas on how services can improve. If you sit on a community committee, look for ways to invite youth and families in to the conversation about what it is they need, and then take steps to implement their ideas.
Are you a university student looking for a research project? Design a study to generate some data on what challenges and barriers youth and families face to be used to lobby and advocate for increased funding and support.
Interested on advocating at a federal level? Write your Member of Parliament sharing your support for the creation of the Canadian with Disabilities Act. Advocate for Psychologist services to become publicly funded, thereby increasing access to care exponentially.
Are you unsure of where to even start looking to learn more? There are many organizations and movements out there that are dedicated to pushing forward this conversation, including Champions for Community Mental Wellness. The way I look at it though, is we are ALL part of this choir. You get to choose where you fit best, so find the community that you feel most comfortable with and join in!
Most importantly, do not underestimate the value your voice can bring to the conversation. We can each #BeAChampion for children, youth and families in our communities.
We can create the tipping point. Together.