Mental illness is still a family secret
Parents are too embarrassed to seek help for kids,
2007 04:30 AM
Family Issues Reporter
Too many Canadian youths suffering
from depression and anxiety aren't getting
treatmentbecause their families are embarrassed to
seek help, according to two new studies.
In a survey released this week by
Kinark Child and Family Services, Ontario's largest
children's mental health centre, 38 per cent of
Canadian adults said they would be embarrassed to
admit their child or teen had a mental illness, such
as anxiety or depression.
Last month's survey, involving 1,500
adults, also found that higher education and income
levels did not translate to more understanding or
acceptance: 40 per cent of university-educated
adults surveyed, and 45 per cent of those earning
incomes over $100,000, claimed they would be too
uncomfortable to get help.
"With this huge percentage of the
population embarrassed to admit, let alone discuss
their child's struggles with mental health issues,
we are a very long way from removing this painful
and damaging stigma in Canada," said Kinark
executive director Peter Moore.
"There's a sense of blame, families
feel responsible and that it's their fault," he
said. "There's still a huge general discomfort. It's
an issue that has been in the shadows for
generations and generations."
The Kinark survey coincides with
Children's Mental Health Week, which begins Monday
and is aimed at moving the issue up the public
agenda. An estimated one in five Canadian children
is struggling with a mental health problem.
This month's issue of American
journal Psychiatric Services reports 85 per
cent of adults in a recent study believe kids are
overmedicated, 40 per cent believe kids with
depression are a danger to others and 45 per cent
believe that if treated they will face rejection at
Last month, a study by Sunnybrook
Health Sciences Centre also revealed how stigma can
be a barrier to treating youths. The report,
published in The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry,
found that almost 50 per cent of Canadian
adolescents ages 15 to 24 who are depressed and
suicidal are not accessing mental health services.
"This shows us that while this is
pretty common among teens, only half are getting
help," said youth psychiatrist Dr. Amy Cheung, the
study's lead author.
She says teens often face several
barriers to treatment – their own shame, plus that
Early intervention is critical to
successful treatment. Left undiagnosed and
untreated, kids with mental illness, or behavioural
disorders and focus problems, may drop out of school
or engage in high-risk behaviours such as substance
abuseor living on the street.
Many are at risk of suicide, which
is the second leading cause of death among youth.
Cheung would like to see family
doctors and pediatricians routinely raising mental
health issues with teenage patients, much the way
they talk about physical development or birth
And Moore suggests that more
discussion in school health classes could help
"normalize" mental health issues and encourage kids
to talk about it.