Marlowe Evans

BEING YOUNG: Let’s really talk about mental health

Maple Ridge News columnist Marlowe Evans talks about prevalence of mental health issues in youth

by Marlowe Evans/Special to The News

With #BellLetsTalk day just passed, I feel like maybe the floor is still open for discussion on mental health.

It should always be open, but maybe now that a multi-billion dollar company has (not un-problematically) held the door open, maybe this will be an easier conversation for us to have.

Young people need better access to mental health services.

According to the B.C. division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in seven young people in B.C. will “experience a mental illness at some point.”

When it comes to statistics about youth who have diagnosed mental health needs, their website says, “an estimated 84,000 children and youth in B.C. have a diagnosed mental disorder, yet less than one-third of those children who seek help are receiving mental health services.”

That means that as many as 58,000 children in this province are not receiving the treatment they need.

That certainly is a big number.

Why is it the case? Why are there so many young people in British Columbia who aren’t getting the help and support that they need?

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Well, here we’re going to go off on a little tangent about my personal experience.

In my experience with friends and colleagues, there have been three main reasons why they have failed to connect to mental health services: parents, stigma, and finance.

Let me start with parents. The issue of parents as barriers to mental health services can be connected to the issue of stigma.

I’ve known people whose parents haven’t believed them when they’ve said they were struggling with mental health issues.

This is for everyone who looks after or living with young people – so many of you are doing everything right, and listening to and validating feelings and helping youth seek the resources available to them. But there are some parents and caregivers who don’t listen when their child or teen says they’ve been struggling with mental health issues, and especially as a child or young teenager who can make it almost impossible to access long-term therapy or doctors without going through complicated legal processes.

Regularly taking the time to speak to your kids about mental health can help normalize the idea of asking for support when it’s needed.

And if you’re not sure what to say, try Google. It knows things sometimes, and there are a lot of great resources for parents.

The second issue is connected to the first – stigma. One reason why some parents deny their children access to mental health services is because they are swayed by social stigma surrounding mental health. I’m not going to repeat any of those hurtful narratives about mental illnesses, because we’re all familiar with them, and to repeat them is to propagate them. However, suffice it to say that mental health issues and mental illnesses deserve to be treated just as seriously as any other health issues. You don’t tell a kid there’s nothing wrong with them when they have the flu, so the same should go for if they say their mental wellbeing has been off. If you have friends who say they’ve been struggling with mental illness, there should be no more judgement there than if they said they had any other illness. It’s not uncommon for people to struggle on their own for a long time because they feel that they may be singled out for accessing services. The bottom line is, be a good person and let people get help. Support and openness from friends, family, and co-workers can make recovery and treatment a lot easier and less stressful.

The final barrier to mental health services that I’ll mention is financing. Is this another article talking about being a broke university student? Yes, yes it is! Many universities don’t offer mental health services on campus, and if they do, they’re often grossly understaffed. This means that many people who should be receiving help, don’t get it because they can’t afford to go to private treatment. That’s putting aside the fact that many health insurance policies don’t have efficient coverage for mental health supports.

The one good thing about Bell Let’s Talk is that it does get people talking about mental health. 84,000 is so many youth. And that’s just those who are diagnosed. Mental health is a wildly important issue for youth, and trying to find resources and help can seem impossible. Try seeking out a trusted teacher, counsellor, friend, or family member if you’re struggling with your mental health. It can be difficult to find resources, but if we all work together, it won’t be impossible.

– Marlowe Evans is a student at the University of New Brunswick from Maple Ridge who writes about youth issues

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