Ontario is facing a kids’ mental health crisis. To raise awareness, we are sharing stories from families who are a part of our Parents for Children’s Mental Health peer support chapters. These are real parents, real children – and real issues. Our kids can’t wait anymore for mental health care. Families should be able to access kids’ mental health treatments wherever they are, when they need it.
We are calling on Ontario’s political parties to Take the Pledge for kids’ mental health. You can help. Ask your MPP candidates to Take the Pledge.
Meet Laura, a mom parenting a child with complex mental health issues in Sudbury.
Can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Laura and I have three kids. I’m a teacher and I am a very passionate mental health advocate because my daughter has complex mental illness. At age 7, we started to become concerned. Now, she’s almost 13. It’s been a really isolating journey to get this far. The stigma that we have had encountered as a family – I didn’t anticipate what that would look like for our family, or how intense that can feel for kids who struggle with complex mental illness.
What are some challenges you face as a parent of a child with complex mental health issues?
It has been very isolating for our family. It’s very exhausting to advocate and we feel so stigmatized in ways that we hadn’t anticipated.
What has your experience with the youth mental health system been like?
Our experience with the youth mental health system has been soul crushing.
I want to emphasize that the clinicians and mental health professionals we’ve encountered via the child and youth mental health system have been mostly kind, caring people who wanted to help but who maybe didn’t have the right credentials to be able to help effectively. Sometimes clinicians aren’t a good fit but you take whoever you get since wait times are so long. Staff turnover is also extremely high and there simply aren’t enough people to help everyone in a timely or effective way, or to build good relationships built on trust.
What has been most soul crushing is feeling like we have to justify every decision we’ve ever made as her parent from the time we got pregnant to the time we’ve sought services. It’s exhausting to have to explain over and over again our story because every time our clinician changes, we have to refill in the same forms, we have to go through the same questions. It’s odd to have people come into our home and judge your parenting and then say, ‘there’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing. So, there must be something else wrong, but we have no services for you for that.’
It’s crushing. Exhausting. Overwhelming.
What would it mean to get more mental health support for your child?
For our family, it would mean getting more mental health supports. More consistent supports would mean everything.
She does have a great team that we fight to keep or we have to pay for it.
We don’t have enough services in Sudbury so files are closed all the time, even if the needs are still there, because there’s just not enough people. We only have four psychiatrists, we lost the first one and had to go to SickKids or telehealth, which was not an ideal format. We finally have a psychiatrist I feel like we might get to keep and he’s a good advocate, but we only see him once every three or four months.
More consistent and more supportive mental health services would mean everything for our family.
How did the pandemic affect your child’s existing mental health issue?
Predictability is important. School is important. For her online schooling was utterly horrible. She already feels very isolated. And that was just terrible for her.
COVID has made accessing all of her therapies really hard because they’re all online. She does not do well with that she has a hard time maintaining focus. If it’s a hard conversation or something she doesn’t want to engage with, she turns the screen off.
What needs to happen in the kids’ mental health system?
One of the things that needs to happen in kids’ mental health is that it needs to be more equitable. You shouldn’t have to travel to access services as much as we’re expected to up here (in the North). You shouldn’t have to know someone to get ahead of the line. You shouldn’t have to have the funds or the insurance or the right job to be able to access services privately. If she had diabetes, we wouldn’t have had to jump through five years of hoops just to get a diagnosis.
Families need access to respite care. It is exhausting to advocate all the time, while also dealing with the emotional toll that is parenting youth with complex mental illness.
Skyrocketing Demand for Services
More Severe Mental Health Issues Reported
Hear from another mom. Meet Sarah
Sending big hugs your way from Nova Scotia, Laura. Parenting children with mental health issues is such a hard road that we are walking, too. It is difficult to explain the particular grief that accompanies this experience. The relentlessness of having to point out to a new clinician details of a history you know is documented but they have yet to fully grasp–of having to explain to your child that there is yet another new person they have to trust with their most vulnerable self. The chronic state of hyper-alertness you occupy trying to protect a child whose mind is glorious and resilient but oh so fragile. The trick of adoring them while also acknowledging how trying they can be–how hard things are because of what they contend with–the ways it affects your dinnertime and your vacations and your career and your marriage and your other kids. The number of hours you spend gathering a graduate degree’s worth of information on another approach you might take. Another thing someone might have missed. The ways in which you try to draw in thick permanent marker the outline of just how precious your child is. How we can’t let them slip under the water line of this struggle they didn’t ask for or earn. How we somehow have to clear enough space in the room for people to see how hard these gorgeous little kiddos are trying to play a complicated, high-stakes game with their cards stacked against them. And the incredible grace with which they do it.