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Personal stories of struggle launch Children's Mental Health Week

By: Jonathan Migneault - Sudbury Northern Life

 | May 06, 2014 - 9:50 AM |
Representatives with the Child and Family Centre observed the raising of the flag for  Children's Mental Health Week at Science North Monday. Photo by Jonathan Migneault.

Representatives with the Child and Family Centre observed the raising of the flag for Children's Mental Health Week at Science North Monday. Photo by Jonathan Migneault.

Around 500,000 children and youth in Ontario have a mental illness

Sarah Cannon's family has had a long and difficult history with mental illness.

In 2003, her husband died of suicide after he lost his battle with bipolar disorder.

“In my husband's case, I really feel the system let us all down,” said Cannon, who is now executive director of Parents for Children's Mental Health, an organization that works to improve the lives of children and families dealing with mental illness across Ontario.

Cannon said her husband tried to admit himself to hospital the week of his suicide, but was deemed not to be sick enough for an overnight stay.

“This system has been so chronically underfunded and resourced for decades that it has now gotten to a place where it's worst come, first served,” Cannon said.

Her two daughters have also struggled with mental illness. Cannon's oldest daughter, who is now 17, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was five.

Her youngest daughter, who is 13, had a suicide attempt last summer.

Cannon was in Sudbury Monday to help launch Children's Mental Health Week.
She shared her family's story and encouraged audience members to their part to fight the stigma associated with mental illness.

“The things that have made the biggest impacts on my family and my children have been the generosity of others,” Cannon said.

According to Children's Mental Health Ontario, one out of five children and youth in the province has a diagnosable mental health problem.

Of those children and youth, only one in six are getting the treatment they need.

Linda Dugas, executive director of the Child and Family Centre, which provides mental health services to children in the Sudbury and Manitoulin district, said the province is making big strides through its Moving on Mental Health strategy.

“Are we underfunded? Definitely,” she said. “But this transformation ... I give kudos to the provincial government, they have invested quite significantly in children's mental health through this strategy.”

The strategy is a partnership between the Ministries of Children and Youth Services, Education, Health and Long-Term Care, and Training, Colleges and Universities to improve access to mental health and addictions services, strengthen worker capacity, create a responsive and integrated system and build awareness and capacity about mental health issues within communities.

Dugas said it will take a few more years for the new strategy's impact to be fully understood.

Sudbury's four school boards have also collaborated to improve mental health support for children and youth.

The Northern Ontario Suicide Prevention Network announced Monday the launch of its Elephant in the Room anti-stigma campaign.

Participating teachers with all four school boards will have small plastic elephants in their classrooms, which symbolize their openness to discuss mental health issues with their students.

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Jonathan Migneault

Jonathan Migneault

Staff Writer


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