Participating in tonight's panel discussion are Dr. Smita Thatte, director of The Royal's youth psychiatry program, and Dr. Hazen Gandy, division chief of community-based psychiatric services at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).
Dr. Kathleen Pajer is the CHEO's chief psychiatrist, and she will be speaking on the differences in the mental health of children and youth today, what that means for parents, potential warning signs, and how parents can support their kids. Lastly, Dr. Timothy Hogan from the Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) will provide an overview of OCDSB policies and resources relating to child and youth mental health.
The night begins with remarks by Dr. Hogan, the moderator for the event, who says the event is funded by the Ministry of Education. He says tonight is an opportunity to learn about how to help children and youth on matters including depression, anxiety, and general mental health. There will be a Q&A opportunity at the end of the night.
Dr. Hogan informs the audience that Dr. Pajer is ill and unable to attend tonight's discussion.
The school board has 25.4 full-time employees working in psychology, according to Dr. Hogan. There are 45.5 social workers and child and youth workers. The school board's mental health strategy was developed about two years ago with funding from the Ministry of Education, and the keystones of the strategy are on-going service delivery, mental health promotion, capacity building, and evidence-based practices.
Dr. Hogan emphasizes the importance of building mental health awareness within the school communities. This includes students, parents, administrators, professional staff and teachers. He says mental health awareness is achieved through multi-disciplinary teams within each school which work to develop programs to foster students' well-being. The goal is to prevent the many issues that come forward regarding mental health.
A spokesperson says the 12 and under group is often neglected in regards to mental health. She explains that The Royal and CHEO have been in partnership since 1999, touching the lives of hundreds since then.
The audience applauds as Dr. Thatte takes the podium. She will be speaking on the difference between mental distress and mental illness in children and youth, common mental health disorders in youth, and changes in youth presenting with mental health issues.
About 15-25 per cent of Canadians experience at least one mental health problem before the age of 19, she says. Only one in six under 19 years is adequately diagnosed, and only one in five received the appropriate treatment. Dr. Thatte says this is a note of serious concern.
Dr. Thatte explains the importance of adolescence, noting that most mental disorders start cultivating during this stage of life. There is, however, a difference between mental distress and mental illness. Mental illnesses are usually long-term, less common, high in severity, leads to significant impairments in life, and requires professional help. Dr. Thatte emphasizes the difficulty of differentiating between the two at times.
Some warning signs of a mental illness include persistent low mood, changes in eating, psychotic symptoms, frequent self-harm behaviour and talking about suicide. Dr. Thatte says the most common mental illnesses experienced by young people are anxiety disorders, ADHD, mood disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse and suicide. Dr. Thatte gives a brief overview of each disorder.
Dr. Thatte delves deeper into the issue of suicide among youth. In Canada, it is the second leading cause of death among youth between the ages of 15 and 19, the first being motor vehicle accidents. This is a major public health concern to clinicians, she says, although the rates are not currently increasing.
Over the last few years, there has been a "substantial increase" in emergency visits and revisits, as well as rates of hospitalization and re-hospitalization, says Dr. Thatte. Self-harm behaviors, substance abuse, and drug-induced psychosis are increasing, as well. On the bright side, however, the youth are now better informed and more willing to talk and share their problems.
Dr. Thatte says there's a concern that social networking exposes youth to adult issues much earlier in life than previous generations have experienced. For instance, she says online bullying and sexting is on the rise each year.
Since 2009, CHEO has seen a 75 per cent increase in mental health emergency visits among youth, according to Dr. Thatte. The largest group appears to be the 15 to 17 year-old population.
Despite the increased use of hospital services, there is no evidence to suggest that the prevalence of mental disorders in this age group has actually grown, according to a 2014 CIHI report.
Dr. Thatte concludes her presentation with a clear message: mental health awareness needs to continue and increase and the school board cannot do it alone. A system of stronger collaboration and integration at all sectors is needed.
Dr. Gandy now stands behind the podium to speak about how parents can promote mental health. He says his presentation is meant to be more of a conversation rather than a list of facts.
He says the parent's role is to act as the child's "surrogate frontal lobe," helping them to modulate and control their emotions when they can't seem to do it alone.
Dr. Gandy says children need at least one adult with whom they have a secure attachment with in order to be mentally healthy. Attachment does not just happen in infancy as many people believe, he says.
He says that as a leader, the people that you lead watch you very carefully. They watch what you say, do, how you feel and what you express. In doing so, they learn how to respond and model the behavior they see. "It's the same with parents and kids," he says.
Getting enough sleep is much more important for good mental health than people think, says Dr. Gandy. Not only do they need enough hours of sleep, but they need good quality sleep without the distractions of smartphones and Netflix.
To promote resiliency, parents need to stress their children's strengths, be flexible, treat mistakes as learning opportunities, and communicate with respect, says Dr. Gandy.
"Social media and mobile networking is the arch enemy of attachment," Dr. Gandy says. The audience chuckled as Dr. Gandy shared that according to a recent survey, 68 per cent of teens would rather go a week without seeing their significant other than go a week without their phone.
The best thing for a parent to do when their child is diagnosed with a mental illness is to become an expert on that mental illness, Dr. Gandy says.
Dr. Gandy explains the intake and referral process when a child enters the system to get help for mental illness. Unfortunately, most patients are wait-listed for long periods of time and some get lost within the wait list. "Patience is crucial," he says.
Dr. Gandy's last remarks are followed by a warm applause. The Q&A session begins with a question concerning how a parent can protect a child from mental illness when it's hereditary. Dr. Gandy says it's important to know and understand the family history and what treatments worked and didn't work, particularly medications.