Kids grow up quickly and, in the blink of an eye, they seem to go from giggling toddlers for whom laughter seems second nature to sometimes moody teenagers who appear to have adopted eye-rolling as a default expression.
It can drive parents and educators to distraction but it’s tolerated because we know it’s a normal part of growing up. We can see flashes of the next generation of mature adults peeking through the curtain of their current sense of disdain and superiority and, on the most part, they are a pretty fantastic group.
But for some, the sullen periods of self-imposed isolation, the sudden behaviour changes, or any of a myriad of other warning signs should be cause for closer examination and concern.
The truth is that it’s hard for a young person to acknowledge that something is seriously wrong – it’s hard for all of us. And for parents. it can be terrifying to think that the energetic toddler you adored has, in their adolescence, developed some serious problems and now needs some help.
But it’s important to do away with that mindset and recognize that mental illnesses are common in society and that youth are not immune.
Canadian statistics indicate that about one-in-seven young people will experience some form of mental illness. Unaddressed, the young people with those conditions risk suffering the long term consequences of their illness – consequences that can impact their whole lives.
As well, given that youth are among the highest risk populations in Canada for suicide (it’s the second leading cause of death for Canadians between the ages 10 to 24), we ignore and stigmatize the issue of youth mental health at our peril.
The Sooke school district deserves full credit for recognizing and addressing the difficult challenges associated with mental health. The resources they’ve dedicated to the issue and the attitudes of acceptance and caring they’ve demonstrated to the students in their charge have been more than impressive.
Now, as a community, it’s our turn to do our part.
It’s our attitudes toward people with mental illness that will determine the way those who are suffering from a variety of challenges in their lives feel about their condition. It may spell the difference between coming forward to seek help or suffering in silence.