Category Archives: Conferences

Canadian Mental Health Week: May 6-12

This week is Mental Health Week and Children’s Mental Health Week in Canada.

group of people holding hands together

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It’s a good time to consider all of the facets of mental health. Happily, I feel that families, communities, schools, organizations and governments are getting better at recognizing signs, symptoms and remedies.

Even though some stigma remains, more people understand that mental health challenges are common. In fact, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health:

  • 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally face a mental health problem or illness
  • 8% of Canadians will experience major depression in their lives
  • Mental health affects people of all ages, education levels, incomes and cultures

Regarding kids, many wonder why suicide rates for children, teens and young adults seem to be increasing* and why more children (even those as young as 8) seem to be experiencing more stress than in generations past. What might the reasons be?

bed blanket female girl

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From reading, research and speaking with other parents and experts, here are three top-line theories:

The Sleep Factor

  • Children, teens and adults are getting far less sleep than in prior generations. Whether it’s due to the blue light from our devices, the lure of 24/7 streaming content, being overwhelmed with homework or answering emails, or parents not enforcing strict bedtimes for younger children, we all could use more shut-eye.
  • Sleep allows us to heal our bodies and minds and to recharge for the day to come. It also helps regulate breathing and blood pressure. Without consistent, regular sleep and sleep patterns we put extra stress on our mental health and well-being.

The Failure Factor

  • Over the past year, I’ve read more and more about how parents’ inability to let our children fail and experience disappointment is hindering their ability to be successful later in life.
  • While we may think we’re doing our kids a favor by protecting them from, say, losing a race or failing a test or not making the cheerleading team, it’s important that children understand how to fail. When a child gets a D on their math quiz or is not invited to the dance, she might learn how to do things differently next time and, at the same time, build resilience which can help her deal with future disappointment.

The Comparison Factor

  • Personally I think adults are just as at-risk of this as children or teens. In our social and social media-infused world, we can’t help but compare ourselves to our next door neighbour who just returned from a spontaneous trip to Italy or to our colleague who is taking a year off to write a novel.
  • I’m not at all against social media (in fact, I’m a huge fan) but it can be extremely detrimental when we (or our children) are feeling vulnerable. It’s difficult to remember that people are more than their social media profiles and that most only post the best of their lives – not the tedious chores or the endless amounts of homework or the fight they just had with their sibling.
  • Comparing ourselves to our friends, classmates, or colleagues can bring on feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, depression and doubt. For parents, talking to our kids about social media and its implications and limiting the use of personal devices and video gaming can be beneficial.

Do any of these theories about modern-day mental health resonate with you? Are you aware of your kids’ mental health on a regular basis? Do you speak with them about stress or social media or suicide? I’d love to learn about your own theories and advice.

Feel free to comment on this post or write to me.

Lisa

*Note: The web site linked to teen suicide includes some disturbing content

Help me! Resources for parents & kids

Happy Monday!

sakura tree

Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

Here in south-eastern Ontario, spring is trying desperately to make its presence known. One day it’s warm & sunny with birds chirping and little green buds pushing out of the earth, and then the next day it’s super cold and brisk.  In the very near future, we are hoping to enjoy more birds chirping and less ice scraping.

Navigating the Kids’ Mental Health System:

But I digress! As I mentioned in this post, one of the reasons I decided to reinvigorate my blog after several years’ hiatus is because a few months ago, out-of-the-blue, a woman wrote to me seeking assistance. She and her husband were desperately searching for resources in Ontario for their child who has learning disabilities and some neurological/mental health challenges. I was able to provide specific resources in the Greater Toronto Area and for that she was grateful.

For this week’s post, I’ve gone through my blog (all four or so years of posts) to capture some of the books, experts and resources I’ve collected for readers regarding kids and mental health. Note that some of these resources are specific to Toronto/Ontario/Canada but most are universal.

Helpful Posts:

  1. The Waiting Game – Anyone with a child or loved one experiencing mental health challenges will know the frustration and heartache of waiting for services. People in countries outside of Canada may think that just because we enjoy universal healthcare, we don’t have to wait for services or that every medication, procedure and assessment is free of charge. Those of us living here understand that this is certainly not the case! However, this post outlines some of the steps you might want to take while sitting on a waitlist (or ten).
  2. Results of CADDAC survey on kids with ADHD – One of the first resources I discovered when my child was diagnosed with ADHD is the Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada or CADDAC. In this early post, the results of a survey of parents of children with ADHD are shared. This advocacy group helps parents, children, teens, physicians and others better understand Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder.
  3. A Trip Down Bipolar Road – “My struggle of overcoming bipolar disorder was a tortuous winding road encompassing twenty years,” says Barry Shainbaum, radio host and speaker. I love this Q&A I did with Barry many years ago. However, I notice that his web site is no longer up and running. Still, I think you’ll find his intelligent and deeply personal responses about living & thriving with bipolar disorder to be useful.
beautiful bloom blooming blossom

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4. The Long-Term Implications of Spanking – This is a fairly recent post that deals not so much with spanking (as most people know that it’s unhealthy for both parent and child) but the frustration that parents or caregivers can feel when a child is acting out or not listening. Sometimes it’s difficult for adults to control their temper and/or we don’t have the tools to try something else besides yelling or violence.

5. Self-Regulation is One of the Keys to Good Mental Health – Finally, here is a link to an article I wrote for Parents Canada magazine. While I was a freelance writer, I focused mostly on researching and writing about child development and parenting. “Self-regulation” is a term that many people may not be familiar with but it’s very, very important to long-term success.

I’d love to hear your suggestions for studies, experts, books, web sites, conferences, etc. that have been helpful to you or others. Write to me at: lisa.tabachnick (at) gmail.com or comment in the comments section below.

Lisa

Shake It Up For ADHD

adhdAre you aware of the advocacy group CADDAC (Centre for ADHD Awareness Canada)? This organization (and its sister org CADDRA) is a useful resource for parents, families, psychologists, educators and those diagnosed with ADHD themselves.

Today, on the CADDAC blog, there’s a useful explanation of a new University of Mississippi study indicating that movement actually helps facilitate learning and growth for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. From the study: “Hyperactive movements associated with the disorder may allow children with ADHD to enhance their cognitive abilities.”

This makes sense in many ways as many of us (even those without ADHD) feel the need to stand up, “fidget”, tap fingers or toes, twirl hair, or bounce up and down to get our creative juices flowing.

Sitting still for long periods of time not only inhibits healthy development and may cause severe health implications but, for children with ADHD, it can cause stress and dissuade imagination and working memory. 

Is positive thinking the key for kids?

Here’s more from U of M: “By allowing the hyperactive behaviors to continue, children with ADHD are able to increase their arousal and remain alert in the classroom. Yet conventional teaching and treatment methods demand ADHD children remain still, and the ability to focus on the lesson is lost in the child’s struggle to focus on not squirming or fidgeting, said Sarver.”

These days, many educators and teachers (at least in our school board) better understand that occasional movement, special seating arrangements, more frequent “health breaks” and re-imagined dynamics not only allows all students to more fully enjoy school but allows those with ADHD to fit in, become more engaged and reach their full learning potential.

While meds like Adderall or Vyvanse may work for some, others might be interested in choosing an alternative to Western medicine by way of natural supplement. Here’s an informative article that may shed light on questions about supplements: https://www.cognitune.com/best-natural-adderall-alternatives/

Please note: This article was shared by agreement with myself and Cognitune.

Transitions

Canadian Mental Health Week 2013Day Two of the Vanier Institute’s Families in Canada 2015 conference is now complete and my head is swimming with facts, figures, ideas and connections.

My wallet is swimming with business cards.

I’ve never felt choked up at a conference before: beyond those stats, facts and figures were real emotions, revelations, secrets, personal journeys and testimonials, connections. All of the panelists shared personal insights into the state of families today – why some are broken and why some are successful.

Everyone was touched by the candid portrayals of life as a Canadian family. Whether it was the lawyer speaking about her transition to becoming female, to immigrants talking about their own transition into Canadian life, to dads talking about transitioning into loving, caring role models (sometimes primary role models) for their children; one of the conference themes centred around moving and changing and growing.

We can all relate I’m sure. What transition are you presently going through? New parent? New grad? New diagnosis? New relationship? Please feel free to share.

On Not Judging Covers

Heart PuzzleToday I had the good fortune of attending day one of The Vanier Institute’s Families in Canada conference.

As one of the only writers in attendance, I met and listened to fascinating attendees and speakers. They included Andrew Solomon, Ann Douglas, Mary Gordon, university professors, and executive directors of family-related non-profit organizations.

So many facets of family were covered: law and incarceration, youth justice, gender roles, work and family balance (or integration), mental health and stress, domestic violence, millennials in the workplace, and childcare.

I took copious notes and can’t wait to digest all of the information and hopefully use much of it for this blog and for pitching story ideas to magazine editors.

However, one of the best and possibly most ironic (or iconic) aspects of my day happened on the bus ride back from the conference. The bus was packed as it was rush hour and I was heading to suburbia. After about three stops, a man in his mid-thirties with a mohawk, earrings, tattoos, white tank and shorts got on the bus with a stroller – an adorable one year old boy was inside.

On first blush, one might think of the situation: Oh, poor kid. That man probably isn’t a strong role model/father/caregiver. 

But, that wasn’t the case at all: The man was obviously loving and devoted to his baby; carefully putting a blanket on him and encouraging him to suck his pacifier to go to sleep. He appreciated all of the coos coming from fellow passengers and bragged about his little boy’s accomplishments.

It was a sweet scenario and reminded me of why I came to this conference and why I enjoy writing about families, relationships, parenting and children: Even families who look perfect from the outside usually aren’t, and families who appear imperfect are often loving, caring, and whole.

Can We Handle The Truth?

Photographer attribution: "Aboriginal War Veterans monument (close)" by I, Padraic Ryan. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Photographer attribution: “Aboriginal War Veterans monument (close)” by I, Padraic Ryan. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Here in Canada, The Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has just concluded.  The TRC took an in depth look at how and why 150,000 First Nations children were not only taken against their will and forced to attend church-run “schools” starting in the 1950s but why so many were abused – sexually, physically and mentally – most for years at a time.

Labeled a “cultural genocide” by one TRC investigator, Canadians as a whole will have to reconcile this terrible time in history and understand why non-Indian and religious leaders felt they had a right to overtake a community and force thousands against their will. The results for many are a lifetime of anguish and mental health challenges including depression, anger, anxiety, sadness, grief and suicide.

The stories, pictures, anecdotes from the official testimony are heart-wrenching. Children as young as five years old were severely beaten and raped; First Nations people were made to feel like second-class citizens and, for decades, no one did anything about it – either through apathy or ignorance.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have much to learn about this period and about the First Nations experience. I know many friends and neighbours are horrified and embarrassed that we did nothing to stop it.

But, this is the truth and we all need to learn from it.

[Note: I’m happy to receive constructive criticism about First Nations, TRC or any other fact or idea mentioned here. Feel free to comment or email me directly.]

We Are Family

A Clear Path

Next week I’ll be attending the Vanier Institute’s Families in Canada conference. As a freelance writer  focused on subjects relating to children, parenting, mental health and social development, this is the perfect learning event.

How I’ll attend the myriad sessions in only two short days, I do not know. Themes include everything from LGBT issues to divorce, poverty, gender, northern families, volunteering, education, violence and love;  obviously there aren’t many topics that can’t be intertwined into the concept of “family”.

One of my favourite reflections on family is written by my writer colleague Christina Frank. The Half-Life of the Divorced Parent,posted on the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, is not only brilliantly written but poignant, clever and sad. I often think of Christina’s words as I go through my own parenting journey.

No one expert or speaker can define the complex topic of family as it means different things to different people. Trust, honesty, loyalty, friendship, secrets, ties, heritage, culture, blood relations, laughter, tears, journey, protection…

What does family mean to you?