Parenting Blog

The official blog for Ann Douglas, parenting book author and weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio. Ann is the creator of The Mother of All Books series and the author of Parenting Through the Storm. Her latest book, Happy Parents, Happy Kids, will be published by HarperCollins Canada in February 2019.

Sure, Let's Talk -- But Let's Invest, Too!

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Today is Bell Let's Talk Day in Canada -- a day devoted to having frank and open conversations about mental health. It's a day when people share stories of their own experiences with mental illness: the triumphs and the struggles. 

I've been a passionate supporter of Bell Let's Talk Day over the years because I think the campaign has done an amazing job of getting people talking about mental health.

#BellLetsTalk conversations on Twitter were what inspired me to first speak openly about my own struggles with bipolar disorder. 

And, this year, I'm hoping we can ramp up the impact of these all-important conversations by using #BellLetsTalk Day as an excuse to broaden the conversation. Specifically, I am hoping that we can use it as an opportunity to reach out to our elected officials -- the very people responsible for ensuring that there are adequate services in place in our communities to support people in need of mental health diagnosis and treatment.

Because here's the thing: it's not okay to encourage people to talk about mental health -- and then leave them in the lurch when it comes to actually accessing treatment. And yet that's happening far too often across this country -- because government investment has failed to keep pace with the skyrocketing demand for services.

This past year, I have watched a member of my own family struggle to obtain access to mental health care. What I've learned is that

  1. You have to be incredibly persistent to obtain access to care. You have to be willing to be the squeaky wheel which, if you think about it, is a pretty major burden to put on a person who is already struggling. 
  2. You have to be incredibly lucky -- lucky enough to live in a community where timely access to mental health treatment is available. I don't think it should come down to luck. (There have been times when I thought my family's luck was going to run out: that it wouldn't be possible to help a family member in trouble to access care soon enough. And that's a terrible feeling.) 

So here's my plea to you on Bell Let's Talk Day, 2018.

Please take a moment to write to your MPP to urge them to make mental health funding a priority this year. Or, if you prefer, call his/her office and ask for a face-to-face meeting to discuss the issue. And, while you're making a plea for more mental health investment in general, please take a moment to spotlight the chronic underfunding of child/youth mental health services and the terrible cost of such shortsightedness. 

As I have learned through my volunteer work with Children's Mental Health Ontario's #kidscantwait campaign, we're actually losing ground when it comes to investing in the mental health of children and youth -- this despite the fact that requests for services are skyrocketing and the impact on families is immeasurable. 

Bottom line? We can do better and we must do better. 

So, sure. Let's keep talking.

But let's start investing, too -- in mental health care for every Canadian who needs it.
 

Ann Douglas is the author of Parenting Through the Storm and the weekend parenting columnist for CBC Radio.

It's That Time of Year Again: Bell Let's Talk 2016

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Participating in Bell Let's Talk has become somewhat of an annual tradition for me over the years. I love the way this powerful campaign sparks important conversations about mental health. And, the timing (late January) is great. (Winter blahs, anyone?) So I'll be part of the online conversation on January 27 and beyond (mainly on Twitter because I'm very much a Twitter person). And I'll be volunteering behind the scenes as a speaker at three Bell Let's Talk events in Toronto, Mississauga, and Ottawa. (See my workshop calendar for details about the Ottawa event, a fundraising breakfast on behalf of the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa which is open to members of the public.)

Bell Let's Talk recently interviewed me about my reasons for being involved with the campaign. This is what I had to say:


What inspired you to get involved in mental health advocacy?

I got involved in mental health advocacy because I wanted to let people know that it’s possible to have a mental illness and to have a great life. You don’t have to choose one or the other. 

I have learned this through personal experience—both as a person who lives with bipolar disorder herself and as a person whose family members have also grappled with a number of mental health challenges—and who are currently thriving. 

I think it’s important to get this message out so that people don’t end up feeling terrified or defeated if they—or someone they love—is diagnosed with a mental illness. A diagnosis is simply a piece of information about you. It doesn’t begin to define you and it certainly doesn’t have to limit you. It is possible to live well while you’re living with a mental illness.

 

What has been the most difficult challenge as a parent of a child with mental illnesses?

There are so many things that are hard about being the parent of a child with a mental illness. You feel stressed and overwhelmed. You feel unsure about what you can do to help. You worry about your child. You feel lonely and alone. You feel frustrated and angry. You feel sad that life is so difficult for your child. You feel so many things, and sometimes you feel all of these things at the same time. 

But one of the hardest things is feeling like you and your child are being judged by people who don’t understand what it’s like to be a child who is struggling with a mental illness—or what it’s like to be that child’s parent. People need to understand that having a child who is struggling doesn’t make you a bad parent—just as being a child who is struggling doesn’t make your child a bad kid. 

 

If you could send one message to parents with a similar lived experience to your own, what would it be?

Self-care isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity. You can’t put your own life and happiness on hold until some future day when your child is no longer struggling. You need to do the hard work of taking good care of yourself and finding joy in your life right now, even if your child happens to be going through a really tough time. This doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. You can feel really sad about the difficulties that your child is experiencing and you can allow yourself to experience happiness in your life, starting right now. 

So don’t feel guilty for doing things that give you pleasure, like meeting a friend for a cup of coffee or going for a walk on a beautiful day. Practicing good self-care isn’t just a gift that you give yourself. It’s a gift that you give to your child, too, because a child who is struggling needs and deserves the strongest, healthiest parent possible. 

 

What does your support network look like when your family is facing challenges?

It looks and feels like a family that is being enveloped in a blanket of caring. We are so, so lucky….

For starters, I have three great sisters who are incredibly helpful and resourceful—the very type of people you want to have in your court when you’re feeling frightened and overwhelmed. They have been there for me—and they have been there for my kids—on countless occasions. 

I am also really lucky to have three close friends who have been through similar experiences with their kids. They have been incredible sources of support and wisdom to me over the years. My friend Darlene meets me for lunch and listens to me talk about my worries and frustrations. My friend Lori sends me e-mails of support from across the miles. And my friend (and cousin!) Karen checks in with me by phone if I go too long without e-mailing her to let her know how I’m really doing. I am so grateful for the love and support I have received from these three wonderful women that I dedicated my book Parenting Through the Storm: How to Handle the Highs, the Lows, and Everything in Between to the three of them. The dedication reads, “To Darlene, Karen, and Lori: For lunches, phone calls, and emails when I needed them most—at the height of the storm.”

And that is just touching the tip of the iceberg, in terms of highlighting the depth and breadth of the support my family has received over the years. So many people have rallied to our side when we needed them. I’m thinking about my friend Bridget, who arrived in the middle of the night to stay with our three boys when our daughter had to be rushed to hospital—and how our next-door neighbor David brought us endless cups of coffee in the aftermath of our recent house fire. (But that’s a whole other story!)

 

Based on your experiences, what advice do you have for parents who are seeking support?

Remind yourself that there are people out there who aren’t merely willing to help, but who are actually eager to help. People derive a lot of joy and satisfaction from helping other people. It’s the way we’re wired as humans. So don’t deprive another person of the pleasure that comes from helping your family in your time of need. Simply look forward to being able to pay this kindness forward to some other family in some other way at some other time. Bottom line? You don’t have to do this on your own. Let people know what you need and be willing to accept that help. Embrace this aspect of being human.

Bullying Prevention Tips for Children Who Are Struggling

by Ann Douglas

It’s not your imagination: children who are struggling with mental health, neurodevelopmental, and behavioural challenges are more likely to be bullied—and/or to bully—other children. 

Not only do they tend to exhibit behaviours like depression, anxiety, and excessive aggression that are likely to make them targets of bullying: they have fewer opportunities to play with other children and work on all-important relationship skills like cooperation, empathy, and perspective taking—skills that make them less likely to want to bully others.

So what can parents, teachers, and other caring adults do to reduce the likelihood that a child will bully or be bullied? 

Give your child the opportunity to work on his relationship skills. These skills don’t fall into place easily or naturally for every child. Some children need some extra help with relationships skills, including the art of relationship repair. (Things can and do go wrong in relationships. Children need to know what to do in order to fix those problems.) 

Help your child to forge some key alliances. Relationships reap tremendous dividends when it comes to protecting a child against bullying and reducing the likelihood that a child will bully others. Children who have a strong relationship with a teacher are less likely to engage in bullying or to be bullied; and children who have a strong relationship with at least one peer are less likely to be bullied. 

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Teach self-advocacy skills. Children who are being bullied can be taught how to ask for help in a way that strengthens relationships, minimizes conflict, and encourages the other person to want to help. At the same time, it’s important to let the child know that he has your support. Your child needs to feel the strength of your caring: to know that you’ll do whatever you can to make things better, starting right now. 

Model the behaviours you wish to see. Join forces with other adults to create communities that are characterized by kindness and mutual respect so that children grow up knowing how they should expect to be treated and how they should expect to treat others.  

Resources:

Prevnet.ca

Red Cross RespectED 


Ann Douglas is the author of Parenting Through the Storm: How to Handle the Highs, the Lows, and Everything in Between (a guide to parenting a child with a mental health, neurodevelopmental, or behavioural challenge). 

This post was originally published on the website of the Canadian Red Cross.

Dear Parent of a Child Who is Struggling....

Here’s what other parents want you to know about parenting a child who is struggling with a mental health, neurodevelopmental, or behavioural challenge.

 

Ann Douglas is the author of Parenting Through the Storm: How to Handle the Highs, the Lows, and Everything in Between (a guide to parenting a child with a mental health, neurodevelopmental, or behavioural challenge). She is also an engaging and inspiring speaker who sparks important conversations about parenting and mental health.

"We Were Lucky"

On an otherwise ordinary early summer evening, my then-12-year-old daughter retreated to her bedroom and took a massive dose of extra-strength Tylenol. She had been going through a very tough time at school and was looking for a way to numb the pain.
 
Through sheer good fortune, my husband and I managed to pick up on the fact that something was terribly wrong and to get her to the hospital in time.
 
That was the beginning of our mental health journey as a family — a journey that could have just as easily ended in tragedy that night.
 
I get a shiver down my spine as I type this: We were lucky. Very, very lucky. But parents shouldn't have to count on luck to keep their children safe. Not when we have so much knowledge about what is needed to prevent and treat mental health difficulties in children.  And not when our country has the financial resources to tackle this issue head-on.

Haven’t children and families waited long enough for Canada to get serious about investing in child and youth mental health? I think the answer is yes—which is why I am urging you to take a moment to write to your Member of Parliament to insist that some of Canada’s forecasted budget surplus be invested in child and youth mental health.
 
Partners for Mental Health has made it easy too: just complete the form here and a letter will be sent on your behalf. 
 
We need to get thousands of people raising their voices in order to send a strong signal that Canadians care about this issue.  We need to let them know that counting on luck isn’t good enough. Canadian children and families deserve better.

- Ann Douglas

Note: A copy of this letter has been sent to supporters of Partners for Mental Health, a mental health charity that is seeking to "transform the way Canadians think about, act towards and support mental health and people living with a mental illness." 



Ann Douglas is the author of Parenting Through the Storm: How to Handle the Highs, the Lows, and Everything in Between (a guide to parenting a child with a mental health, neurodevelopmental, or behavioural challenge). She is also an engaging and inspiring speaker who sparks important conversations about parenting and mental health.