Helping to shed mental health stigma for BC kids
Despite the heroic efforts in recent years to normalize the topic of mental health, the stigma remains; many believe that young people and children don’t, or can’t, suffer from mental illness.
In fact, mental illness and emotional disorders, such as anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and depression, are common among children, affecting one in seven – or 14 per cent – in BC alone, with, most conditions developing before the child is 18. So if mental health conditions are so common, why do these nagging stereotypes still exist?
Myths surrounding mental health keep children and families suffering in silence, too fearful to reach out for help. These social anxieties generate a vicious cycle and allow stigma to grow. It takes brave advocates willing to share their stories to break through the wall that surrounds public perception of mental illness – advocates like Lily and her family.
At 12 years old, after years of being consumed with the fear of germs and contagion, Lily was referred to BC Children’s Hospital and was quickly diagnosed with OCD.
Lily’s parents said that by the time she was diagnosed, the OCD had not only completely taken over their daughter’s life, but the family’s as well. “Whether it be an inability to be driven in a vehicle, a fear of going out the door, an inability to sit in a chair at school, piles of laundry every day…The life of a child with OCD is completely taken over by the rituals and fears and the parents become its prisoner as well,” said her father.
At BC Children’s Hospital, Lily was treated in Canada’s first pediatric OCD clinic, headed by Harvard-trained psychiatrist Dr. Evelyn Stewart. There, she went through rounds of cognitive behaviour therapy to help her understand the thoughts that shape behaviour and, eventually, overcome fear.
Since her treatment, Lily has made great progress and acts as an advocate in her community. In Grade 8, Lily gave a speech to her school about her battle with OCD.
“It was really hard for me to get up and tell my classmates and teachers that I have OCD and depression,” she said. “It was a big thing because we live in a society where it is not okay to be different or mentally ill. Stigma is so prevalent.”
This year, RBC Run for the Kids’ fundraising centres on two worthy causes – children in cancer treatment and, for the first year ever, mental health initiatives at BC Children’s Hospital. We’re looking for more stories to share with our community to inspire donations to the event!
Through sharing stories like Lily’s, we can work toward breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness, and help children and families fearlessly seek the help they need and deserve.
Each year, caregivers at BC Children’s Hospital receive over 16,000 patient visits to the mental health outpatient program and provide psychiatric assessment, short-term individual, family and group treatment, and medication review. In most cases, these patients see great results with time, and many learn coping skills that help them move forward in life.
Together we can support BC’s kids fighting mental illnesses by showing them that what they are dealing with is more common than they think, and that there are resources available to help them.
Have you been touched by, or overcome a mental health hurdle in your life? We’d love to share your story! Please submit your story to www.bcchf.ca/share.