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Mental health professionals on children and mental illness

Psychologist Dr. Ian Manion and psychiatrist Dr. Michael Cheng take your questions

Globe and Mail Update

Many adult patients with mental illness, asked to explain where they think it began, go back to their youth. At least 70 per cent of cases of mental illness in adults can be traced back to childhood; many vividly recall the first frightening moment of infinite sadness or the anxiety that makes you want to strip off your own skin.

According to various studies, illnesses such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder affect 13 to 22 per cents of Canadian kids. But there is a lot of denial.

"I'm amazed at how many people don't believe mental illness exists in children," says Ian Manion, executive director of the provincial Centre for Excellence in Child and Mental Health at the Children's Hospital of Eastern in Ottawa.

In Canada's health-care system, mental health is an orphan — and children's mental health, it is said, an orphan's orphan. "Mental illness is the single most-pressing health issue for children, yet the public doesn't take it seriously and neither do health professionals," Dr. Manion says.

Do you have questions about children and mental illness? Do you want to know more?

We're pleased Dr. Manion and Dr. Michael Cheng have joined us to answer your questions on the subject from the perspective of a psychologist and psychiatrist. And while they won't be able to diagnose, they will be able to enlighten. Send your questions now and join us until 4 p.m. Their answers will appear at the bottom of this page.

Dr. Ian Manion is a clinical psychologist, researcher and executive director of the Provincial Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health at CHEO. He is also the chairman of the National Infant, Child and Youth Mental Health Consortium, a group of dozens of organizations from across the country working together to champion the development and implementation of a national action plan for child and youth mental health.

As a psychologist, Dr. Manion has helped numerous children, youth and families address debilitating social, emotional and behavioural problems. As an advocate, he is supporting provincial, national and international efforts to make child and youth mental health matter.

Dr. Manion is the co-founder of Youth Net/RéseauAdo, a bilingual community-based mental health promotion program — run for youth, by youth — which has grown to include satellite locations across Canada and in Europe. He is a clinical professor in the School of Psychology at the University of Ottawa, a Visiting Professor at the University of Northumbria and a devoted father of five.

Dr. Michael Cheng is a staff psychiatrist at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, where he works in the Mood and Anxiety Disorders clinic.

His clinical and research interests include mood and anxiety disorders, sensory processing disorders, e-learning and knowledge exchange. Dr. Cheng devotes himself to finding innovative ways to get reliable information into the hands of those who need it most — children, youth, families and other service providers. He is currently a leader on the ever-expanding ementalhealth.ca project, which connects families and professionals to local mental health resources. Dr. Cheng is an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Ottawa.

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Christine Diemert, globeandmail.com: Thanks to Dr. Ian Manion and Dr. Michael Cheng for joining us today to talk about children and mental illness. I'll start the discussion by looking back on a very strong statement from Dr. Manion in The Globe's Saturday story.

"Mental illness is the single most-pressing health issue for children, yet the public doesn't take it seriously and neither do health professionals."

Understanding this can't be solved in one answer, my question to both of you is how can we start to make changes? Is it public perception, educating parents, mandating rules for professionals?

Dr. Ian Manion: Thanks, Christine. We appreciate the opportunity and applaud The Globe and Mail for shedding some light on these very important issues.

You are correct, there will be no quick fix for the long-standing problems in child and youth mental health. We can start by recognizing that most of us have a role to play in changing how our society deals with child and youth mental health issues, which have been identified as critical by those working in child and youth health, education, child welfare, youth justice and developmental services — among others. Despite the widespread concern, we don't have a system that works effectively across all these sectors to best meet the mental health needs of our children and youth.

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