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Raising a child with mental illness

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PS. Here's a facebook group you can join. I've also got a blog.

Christine Diemert, Thanks Heather Bishop and Sean Quigley 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'll ask you the same question I've asked Darlene Wierski-Devoe. What is your greatest hope for Erynn as she goes through her life? Also, what is your greatest fear?

Heather Bishop and Sean Quigley: I think our greatest hope for Erynn is that she will be able to live independently, go to College, University, get a job and start her own family.

Our greatest fear is that she will succumb to those who believe she is "less than" because she has a mental illness and believe she is unable to pursue her dreams.

Alexandra Harkins from London: Thank you for sharing your stories in the article, 'Children of Darkness'. The difficulties that you encounter in trying to obtain help for your children are very concerning - especially some of the experiences you've had with schools.

Although I know of many teaching/support staff who listen and respond to families in caring ways, it might be helpful if you could offer a parent's 'wish list' to all of us who work with young children.

(Ms. Wierski-Devoe, I am spending time this afternoon reading your blog at and have found many useful suggestions and links. But most of all, I appreciate your thoughts and insights as a loving, devoted parent. Thank you.)

Darlene Wierski-Devoe: I can't thank you enough for even asking that question because the fact that it is being raised as our "wish list" is in and of itself the first step.

I understand that the teachers are the professionals and are the ones that know about children and curriculum and I never wanted to step on anyone's toes but from our last three years of schooling (this year going on four) a few things have been made perfectly clear when it comes to success or failure.

My wish list:

1. To understand and accept the fact that Anxiety is a disease and it can be debilitating for children.

2. To never, ever, EVER tell a child that they will fail or that they can't do something. Any concerns should be addressed outside of the presence of the child. These wonderful children hold the weight of the world on their shoulders and when anything negative is said in front of them their world just crumbles. It makes them feel even worse about themselves.

3. To realize that goals for children with anxiety are in small steps e.g. walking in line without being first with the teacher or just smiling back at you or walking into school without crying.

4. It is so important that those working with these children have an open line of communication with the parent as in a communication book or access to email so if something has happened the previous night or in the morning both parties have warning.

5. Be patient. Things will come for these children it just takes a nurturing, safe environment and time.

Heather Bishop and Sean Quigley: We have been fortunate to have worked with some amazing principals, teachers and educational assistants at all three schools that Erynn has attended - all have been very caring.

That being said though, we don't feel like the School Boards do enough to educate their employees about mental illness and train them to work with our children. Nor do they always provide the tools necessary for our children to succeed - ie: quiet spaces where they can decompress, one-to-one assistance so teachers don't have to deal with our kids and 25 others, etc.

In addition, some of those with a little knowledge, choose to try and diagnose our children even though we already work with competent psychiatrists, treatment facilities and doctors. At a school meeting, a school board official, who had never met our daughter, told our psychiatrist that she didn't believe Erynn had bi-polar disorder - that should not be allowed to happen as it causes a great deal of stress for families and school staff.

In addition, there is a lack of communication and coordination between School Boards and mental health/social services agencies. Right now these groups (and Ministries) work as completely separate entities. What would be helpful, is if School Boards had a position attached to them, like a "Patient Advocate" who can help families navigate these confusing systems of care.

Taliba Ismeme from Halifax: There are many alternative treatments that are being proven to help children and adults with psychiatric conditions such as biofeedback/neurofeedback. These are often less invasive and don't include the same alleged risks for adverse reactions as drug therapies.

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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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People with mental illnesses face a stigma that can prevent them from getting care. It also stops the public from seeing the problem. Has mental illness affected your life or that of a loved one? Share your experiences with readers and let us know what single change in society or policy would help the most.

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