We've come a long way in our understanding of how vital a role mental health and wellness plays in the development of healthy, happy and balanced kids. Gone are the days when stigma ruled, right? Gone are the days when blissful ignorance allowed us to think that little Jimmy will just outgrow his nervous tendencies, right? And though some kids tend to be worriers and they eventually develop confidence and coping skills as they mature (i.e they do "outgrow" their worries), it's also true that many adults diagnosed with anxiety, depression, autism, ADD or otherwise were once kids with similar challenges, masked by the veil of childhood and well intentioned individuals who trivialized their struggles ("you're a kid what could you be anxious about?").
The more we know, the better we do, right?
Though we've come a long way from trivializing our kids' troubles, we're nowhere near optimizing their long term outcome. It's great that we're moving towards informed parenting, wide spread awareness of warning signs of mental health needs and relying less on the adage "he/she'll grow out of it", because frankly--yes, maybe Jimmy will outgrow it and maybe just maybe he needs our help to do that. Looking at it through this lens, we're not really outgrowing anything; in a behavioural sense, we're adapting to our needs and developing new skill sets to overcome them. Personally, I'd rather empower my kids to manifest the change they need to be optimized- to be an active participant in their own growth and empowerment rather than a passive participant in growth that is somehow external to them. Call me wild
but I'd rather my kids get credit where credit is due when it comes to the hard work involved in overcoming their challenges, building coping mechanisms and actively pursuing wellness.
But, as usual--I digress!
As a community we like to think we're "woke" as they say. We like to think we're getting it right when it comes to pushing for mental health awareness, and championing wellness as a universal pursuit. The problem, in my humble opinion, is that we're not putting our money where our mouth is. We're pouring all kinds of money into education (and rightly so) but we're failing to come to the table when it comes to committing the money to expansion of mental health service accessibility for our kids. What good is an education system that leaves our kids hanging where it counts most?
Yes, I can read--but I lack motivation, struggle with impulse control and have worries what bigger than my age.
Just recently Ontario policy came under scrutiny for its lack of service options for children with Autism; a couple hundred protests later and a new government and we've made some headway (hope it lasts). A commitment was made to fund whatever scope of treatment was needed for those who were lucky enough to be called to the top of the waitlist; whatever a clinical coordinator recommends is available, fully funded. Sounds decent, right? Well it is-- it's decent and just that, here is why!
Aside from the never ending waitlist, all that is going to be covered is behavioural services. As someone studying to write the BCBA exam you're thinking--you must be happy, right? Well yes--behavioural services are desperately needed and I'm a huge advocate! However, as someone with a Masters in counselling psychology I'm also a bit conflicted. What about mental health services that behavioural services alone cannot address? What about those who now have trauma as a result of horrific and stressful learning environments, being kicked out of school, or other challenging scenarios resulting from failure to meet our kids where they're at--before it's too late?
Now I admit the problem is not black and white! There is little to no funding for mental health services in this, or any, population; the waitlists for what exists are brutal and these issues tend to be time-sensitive; there are limited professionals with the necessary background in both behavioural services and mental health services. What we end up with, as a result, is a revolving door of youth who need crisis intervention; they enter service in crisis, they are released when they are medicated and calm (looking) and they re-enter service sometimes the same week. They wait for hospital beds because there are no facilities open, available or in existence depending on where these kids come from.
So where does it leave us? We like to think we've come so far- I mean come on, everyone knows what "Bell Let's Talk" Day is...but at the risk of sounding pedantic, we need to do a lot more than just "talk" about the mental health of our kids.