Thank you to Sarah Bourdon M.Ed., Registered Clinical Counsellor & owner of Calm Kids Counselling, for providing tips and advice on the importance of family and children mental health care.

Mental Health First Aid

Editors note: Though the opinions and information in this post are those of a qualified professional, the post is not intended to substitute/replace direct consultation with a qualified advisor or industry professional about your unique scenario.

Most families own a first aid kit. With small children around, you never know when you’ll need bandages or ointment on hand. But how many families have a mental health first aid kit? When you or another member of your family is struggling, do you have a plan? Mental health challenges can be tough to talk about, especially when they are connected to our children and parenting. 

In my work as a school and clinical counsellor (and as a parent of young children), I suggest that families begin by creating a “mental health support plan.” This is a plan that family members discuss, agree to, and put down on paper. Your mental health first aid kit!

How do you put a mental health first aid kit together? 

1. Identify your village

Who are the people in your life you can turn to when things get tough? Choose two or three people who you feel comfortable opening up to in a stressful situation. Ask each of these people if they are willing to act as a mental health supporter for your family. Offer to act as a mental health supporter for each of their families in return. Being open and vulnerable with people can encourage them to be open and vulnerable with you. Think of these people as your emergency first responders.

2. Find your mental health boosters

Research shows that certain activities boost mental health: listening to music, walking, unstructured play, spending time in nature, meditation, to name a few. Choose two or three activities that you and your family can prioritize in times of stress. This may mean slowing down the pace and reducing scheduled activities in favour of more down time, relaxation activities, and free play.

3. Investigate counselling support options

As a counsellor, I am obviously a big believer in counselling support as a means of helping individuals and families navigate tough times. The essential piece is finding the right counsellor for yourself and your family. Check out the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors’ website – http://bc-counsellors.org/choose-a-counsellor/how-to-choose/ – for information on finding a counsellor who suits your needs. Contact your local health unit or call BC211 (dial 211 on your phone) to ask about public services. If financial hardship is an issue, there are counsellors and mental health agencies that offer free or sliding scale rates. Inquire with your employer about extended health care coverage or whether you have access to counselling services through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Know your options ahead of time so that you are prepared for challenges and emergencies.

4. Learn about mental health resources

Navigating the mental health system can be intimidating. Fortunately, there two fantastic services aimed at educating and supporting individuals and families in BC:

Here to Help – www.heretohelp.bc.ca

This online resource centre provides information on a variety of mental health challenges including depression, anxiety, substance abuse and addiction, schizophrenia and psychosis, and eating disorders. The site also offers self-help tools, a screening self-test, personal stories, links to crisis lines, and information on where to find mental health support for yourself or a family member, as well as support via e-mail, Twitter, and online discussion forums.

Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre – www.keltymentalhealth.ca.

The Kelty Centre supports children and youth, parents, and school and health professionals working with children. The centre is located at BC Children’s Hospital, but can be accessed by phone or online. The Kelty website contains a wealth of information on anxiety, mood disorders, eating disorders, and substance use, as well as a comprehensive guide to medications commonly prescribed to children and youth. If your child is struggling with a mental health challenge, you can speak with a Parent-in-Residence, a person who has vast experience with the mental health system. In addition, the centre runs the Pinwheel Education Series, a monthly lunch-hour session on a mental health topic.

Raising children truly does take a village, and it helps to know that there are caring people out there. If your family is facing a mental health challenge, I strongly encourage you to connect with loved ones, helping professionals, and mental health services. Creating a mental health plan is a great first step in building up your family’s resources!

In an emergency situation, please contact 911 or the Crisis Line at 310-6789.

Calm Kids Counselling offers workshops on creating mental health support plans. If you would like to create a plan for your family, join us for our next workshop on Saturday, October 7th, at 2:00pm. For more details, visit www.calmkids.ca