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Raising a child with mental illness

Parents answer your questions

Globe and Mail Update

Darlene Wierski-Devoe and her husband, Dave Devoe, believe that it was only their constant pressure on doctors and programs that got help early for their daughter, Sydney, who was diagnosed with anxiety disorder at the age of 3.

Her specific condition, social anxiety, is essentially an extreme, persistent and disabling form of shyness that leaves people dreading even the most mundane social interaction.

At first, Sydney was suspected of having autism, but her parents kept pushing for a more thorough assessment. They were put on waiting lists and Ms. Wierski-Devoe would call nearly every week to check their standing. She spent long hours at clinics and tried to help Sydney at home.

And it was at their first appointment with a developmental pediatrician that Heather Bishop and Sean Quigley heard their daughter, Erynn, then 5, might have biopolar disorder — a disease they did not even know kids could get. The doctor was reluctant to pin her down so early, and prescribed Ritalin to treat attention deficit disorder.

When she was told about the medication after bedtime stories that night, Erynn asked, "Mommy, can I take the pills all my life?"

For the first time, Ms. Bishop recalls with tears, "I realized Erynn understood how different she was."

But Mr. Quigley and Ms. Bishop soon discovered, like so many families, that a diagnosis was just the start of more problems, at school and at home, while her psychiatrist struggled to find the best way to treat her.

Both families have struggled for years, trying to get their daughters diagnosed, treated and accepted. It's an ongoing challenge they spoke of candidly for the Breakdown series in Saturday's Globe and Mail.

So we're pleased that both Darlene Wierski-Devoe, Heather Bishop and Sean Quigley have joined us for a live online discussion, to take questions about coping and caring for a child with a mental illness.

Send your questions now and read their answers, which will be posted at the bottom of the page.

Editor's Note: editors will read and allow or reject each question/comment. Comments/questions may be edited for length or clarity. HTML is not allowed. We will not publish questions/comments that include personal attacks on participants in these discussions, that make false or unsubstantiated allegations, that purport to quote people or reports where the purported quote or fact cannot be easily verified, or questions/comments that include vulgar language or libellous statements. Preference will be given to readers who submit questions/comments using their full name and home town, rather than a pseudonym.

Christine Diemert, Thanks to Darlene Wierski-Devoe for sharing your story with The Globe and joining us today to answer questions from our readers about coping and caring for a child with a mental illness. I'd like to start the discussion by asking, what is your greatest hope for your daughter Sydney as she goes through her life? Also, what is your greatest fear?

Darlene Wierski-Devoe: It is my pleasure to be here answering questions today.

My greatest hope for Sydney is by far that she will grow up being able to realize how much potential she has. I want nothing more for her than for her to wake up in the morning and not fear the day but embrace it. I want her to be able to walk into a room full of people and not feel like all eyes and on her and feel immobilized.

I recognize that anxiety will be with her every day of her life but I want her to be able to grow strong and confident and have friends. I think one of the hardest things for me right now as a parent is seeing how many of the children want to be her friend but are confused by her actions. One minute she's chatty and the next minute she's burying her head. I want her to be able to have friends and enjoy life instead of watching it all go by.

My greatest fear, that's a hard question really because I always fear for her future. We are in a great place right now and we have understanding and co-operation but I can't say if it will always be like that. I worry that in her years to come if she can't battle the "anxiety monster" as we call it she will be on the sidelines and misunderstood.


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Return to Breakdown: Canada’s Mental Health Crisis

Face it. Fund it. Fix it.

In Breakdown, The Globe and Mail documents the enormous, unaddressed cost of mental illness to Canadian individuals, families and society. The series closes with a search for solutions.


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