It’s time to shed some light on children’s mental health.
The week of May 3 to 9 is Children’s Mental Health Week (CMHW) and Barrie-based organization New Path Youth & Family Services, a child and youth mental health provider and lead agency for children’s mental health in Simcoe County, is asking everyone in the county to “Shine Green” in order to bring awareness to the importance of youth mental health.
Whether it’s local municipalities "shining green” at city hall as well as other prominent sites like Meridian Square and Five Points Theatre, donning green duds, or sharing tips for mental wellness by downloading the organization’s free bubbles for mental health comic page for kids to colour and then share on their windows, every little bit helps.
“We’ve had great responses from Barrie and Springwater politicians, as well as townships throughout the county, MPs and MPPs… who will be sending out messages through social media during CMHW. Meridian Place, (Memorial Square) as well as the Five Points Theatre will also be shining green… literally with green light bulbs in support of CHMW,” said New Path communication’s manager Dominika Zapolnik.
The city will also make a proclamation and have a flag-raising to highlight CMHW.
Supporting youth mental health is more important than ever, Coun. Natalie Harris told BarrieToday, noting COVID-19 lockdowns and constant school schedule changes have negatively impacted many local youth.
"I have two children, and I am always checking in on their overall well-being, which includes their mental health," she said. "Fortunately, as a mental health advocate, and as someone who has battled with mental illness myself, the conversation around mental wellness is a comfortable and common topic in our lives. We actually talk about it like we talk about the weather; and that’s how it should be."
Harris encourages all parents to wear green and light up their home with green lights during Youth Mental Health Week.
"You can start the conversation at any age," she said. "If your child reaches out to you for help, you don’t need to have all the answers right away. What you do need to do is listen and validate their feelings. Tell them that you will get through their difficult time together, and that it is never a bad time to talk to you. Children are often afraid to share their emotions because they aren’t sure how to express them and they don’t want to worry their parents."
During Youth Mental Health Week, Harris suggests making a point of telling your kids that emotions are normal and that you feel them, too, adding parents can can find “emotion-wheels” online to help you start the conversation.
"Most importantly, let them know that sharing their feelings with you will never burden you; permission to feel gives them permission to heal," she said.
The bubbles for mental health comic pages are New Path's way of continuing the conversation about the importance of mental wellness and talking about mental health, explained New Path CEO Elizabeth McKeeman.
"This has been an incredibly challenging year for everyone and although there is light at the end of the tunnel, sharing tips and building community virtually continues to be exceptionally important," she said.
Families are invited to hang the finished bubbles in their windows and share the pictures on social media using the hashtag #CMHW2021 #shinegreen #kidscantwait and tagging New Path @NewPathYFS.
“Last year, we almost went viral. The Shine Green hashtag was really well received and people were sending in pictures from beyond Simcoe County. We were thrilled with the response,” said Zapolnik. “We are trying to get people comfortable with sharing and talking about the importance of mental wellness and getting help if you need it.”
Approximately one in five children and youth across Canada has a diagnosable mental health disorder, and, if left untreated, can lead to serious long-term consequences for children or youth and their families. Those that work in the field believe raising awareness through CMHW, can help decrease the stigma and increase awareness of the importance of getting early mental health supports.
“Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Simcoe County counts on the leadership and partnerships with New Path to put children, youth and families first as we know that more than half of all mental health conditions show up before the age of 18," said Dr. Valerie Grdisa, CEO of Canadian Mental Health Association Simcoe County.
“We work together on many initiatives throughout the region knowing that the more we collaborate and integrate our efforts, the more likely our children and youth will face better futures," she added.
A May 2020 Ipsos Public Affairs Annual Mental Health Index survey showed that two-thirds of Ontarians (67 per cent) felt that the mental health impacts of COVID-19 are going to be serious and lasting. Almost three quarters (74 per cent) of respondents felt that Ontarians are experiencing increased mental health and addictions challenges as a result of COVID-19.
Since COVID-19, more than half (59 per cent) of parents noted behavioural changes in their child ranging from outbursts or extreme irritability to drastic changes in mood, behaviour or personality and difficulty sleeping/altered sleeping patterns as well as persistent sadness and more.
Significant changes such as those above, states Children’s Mental Health Ontario, can be signs of a mental illness, pointing out previous research shows that almost 12 per cent of children and youth will have a serious mental illness before the age of 18 that requires treatment from a mental health professional.