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Mental health professionals on children and mental illness

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There is no question that all levels of government need to invest more in the mental health of children and youth. The system is chronically under funded. However, it doesn't make sense for us to put more money into a fundamentally broken system, when we can't be confident it will result in better outcomes. We need to change our approach, fix the system and fund it appropriately. True change will require leadership, creativity and innovation.

Achieving the best mental health for every child and youth is about more than just funding services. It also means increasing the knowledge of anyone who works with children and youth and ensuring they understand how mental health can indeed impact every aspect of a child or youth's life. This includes training for doctors, teachers, police officers and coaches, among others. If they know how to promote child and youth mental health and identify those who might be having more difficulty, they can also help them to find a level of support that is consistent with their needs.

Not everyone will need the most intensive interventions. Getting the right support, from the right provider, at the right time and in the right place can make a huge difference in how well a child or youth can cope with whatever mental health issues they may face.

What we need first is a national vision for child and youth mental health. The Mental Health Commission of Canada is in the process of developing this vision with the help of other pan-Canadian groups like the National Infant, Child and Youth Mental Health Consortium and Canadians from coast to coast. As a first step, the Commission has targeted stigma reduction, with a particular focus on children and youth and health care workers from across disciplines. With the guidance of a national framework, provinces and municipalities should implement a full continuum of effective programs designed to prevent, identify and treat mental health problems among children and youth.

S. Juhn from Canada: I would like to know if there are programs available for children, such as the Panic and Anxiety Disorder group programs for adults that are in existence at some hospitals. Is there a database listing treatment centres for children? What action plan would you recommend for a child who lives in a community where this type of cognitive therapy treatment is not available? Can you recommend resources such as CDs for children with anxiety disorders?

Dr. Ian Manion and Dr. Michael Cheng:

Thanks for the question. There are different types of anxiety programs for children and youth across the country, but we recognize it can be hard to know where to find them.

We are not surprised to hear so many questions from people having difficulties accessing child and youth mental health services, especially in rural or remote areas. This is a particular challenge given the geography of our country and the general lack of services in most communities.

The fact that health care is a provincial responsibility also has contributed to the lack of a single source of information about services available for children and youth across the county.

There are online sources of information that are more regional in nature that help inform families and direct them to services in their area. For example, there is a website known as www.eMentalHealth.ca which has detailed listings of local mental health resources from a growing number of communities. Visit the site to see if there are listings for your area. Although this has been recommended for national expansion, this has yet to happen.

In Ontario, there is a service provider directory available through the Provincial Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health at CHEO.

Other countries, such as Australia, have reached out to rural and remote areas with web-based tools. Similarly, in Nova Scotia, the Family Help program has found innovative ways to reach out to those in more remote areas with this website.

Investing in a national strategy and centre of excellence for child and youth mental health would allow all Canadians to benefit from these innovative efforts.

Parents should learn everything they can about anxiety because many of the strategies for anxiety can be given by parents. Although parents should keep their role as 'parents' and not try to be 'therapists', there are nonetheless many simple strategies that parents can learn to use to help their child with anxiety.

Parents can learn more from:

- The Offord Centre has good lists of books for children with anxiety, including Keys to Parenting Your Anxious Child by Katharina Manassis and Freeing Your Child from Anxiety, by Tamar Chansky

Consider online anxiety/panic treatments such as , "a free self-help program from the Australian National University which teaches cognitive behaviour therapy skills to people vulnerable to depression and anxiety."

This site, is for adults, but would be nonetheless useful for a teenager)

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