entitled 'Mental child support'
Parents call to keep funds
By ANTONELLA ARTUSO, QUEEN'S PARK BUREAU CHIEF
Parents struggling to raise children with mental illnesses are calling on the Ontario government to protect and enhance services despite the difficult economic times.
Sarah Cannon, of St. Catharines, whose 12-year-old daughter has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, told a news conference yesterday that only one out of six children with mental illnesses in the province are able to access services and then only after months on waiting lists.
Privately-obtained services are sparse and dauntingly expensive, and Cannon had to take a second job to cover the cost of her child's $750 monthly medication bill.
"I have been telling my daughter's story for nearly a decade and have been struggling with the daily emotional, financial and social struggles associated with having a child diagnosed with a mental illness," Cannon said.
"I have watched my child have to deal with the isolation and stigma that comes attached to her label. I have watched her struggle and suffer battling faceless demons that few can comprehend. I have learned that she shares this struggle with countless other children."
Suicide is a real risk for mentally ill children even though the vast majority have a psychological illness that could be treated, she said.
Cannon and other members of Parents for Children's Mental Health are asking the McGuinty government to increase spending on these services by 3% after years of flat-lined budgets and to work toward a seamless system of care as recommended in several key reports such as the provincially-sponsored Roots of Violence.
London parent Sean Quigley, whose 12-year-old daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 7, said they pushed hard to get her the services she needed.
During the worst of times, they were getting calls every day from school to pick up their daughter who could be violent and verbally abusive when experiencing the mood swings associated with the disorder.
Now in Grade 7, their daughter Erynn has served as a national "Face of Mental Illness."
"She's on the student council and her grades rock," her proud father said.
But many parents of mentally ill children lose jobs, savings and even their homes as they attempt to meet the needs of their children in a complex, patchwork system, he said.
"The health system does not work with the education system which does not work with the social services system which does not really communicate with the justice system," Quigley said.
"And we as parents, we navigate these systems all the time."
Children and Youth Services Minister Deb Matthews said her government's 2004 budget brought in the first base increase in children's mental health services funding in 12 years.
The ministry is currently implementing a strategic framework for children's mental health services to bring more co-ordination to the system, and to use existing dollars more effectively for the care of children and youth, Matthews said.
I'm all for the work of Canada's Mental Health Commission. Yet these examples illustrate the need for more than just talk and research. Real help would go a long way towards reducing stigma for all concerned!
What we really need is a coordinated systems approach, which brings together various levels and departments of government, and which recognizes and collaborates with "informal service providers". We must as Canadians, find ways to stand with each other to obtain the service and respect we all need.