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Executive Director's Blog

Sarah Cannon

Follow the journey and goings on at PCMH along with Executive Director, Sarah Cannon, as she blogs about issues we all face, the advocacy/social awareness campaign trail and much more.

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What Dennis the Menace, My Daughter Emily, and The Child and Youth Mental Health System Have in Common

The topic of Understanding the Child and Youth Mental Health System is
rather an overwhelming one, because the system itself is overwhelming,
as are the illnesses it is designed to treat. When thinking about
this I was reminded of the old Denis the Menace comic strips, the ones
where Denis was depicted en route somewhere, and never did Denis take
the typical path. The comic strip showed in a dotted line the way
Denis chose to get from point A to point B, that dotted line weaved
from place to place, and showed stops and games Denis played along the
way, and usually also depicted the consequences for poor Denis because
of the deviations.

He may have been only next door at the Wilson's when his mother had
called him home for dinner, and his mother, knowing the typical path
to get from Mr. Wilson's to their front door expected the typical
outcome and timing of such a request, but rarely was that the actual
result. Sometimes Denis would appear covered from head to toe in dirt
because his journey had taken him to a hill that just had to be rolled
down, or he was no longer hungry for his dinner because his journey
had taken him through a strawberry patch where the berries just called
out to be eaten, or Denis would arrive just too late for dinner
because of the extended time it took for his unique path chosen in
getting from point A to point B.

My daughter Emily's mind I have often thought works much this same way
too. The typical thought processes, the ones we all really take for
granted, are far from typical for her because of her journey with
mental illness. The way information in is processed by her does not
take the typical path of how "normal" people process thoughts, her
expression of herself, her thoughts are not communicated in the way we
would expect, but yet this is her journey. Sometimes her message
comes out dirty because of the meandering route her thought processes
take, like a tumbleweed picking up thoughts and extraneous information
along the way, gathering information that may not belong in the
expression at hand, and yet it is all there, and needs deciphering
before the core of the tumbleweed can be discovered. Sometimes,
inputs and outputs do not hold importance long enough for her to
realize because the weaving around of thought processes show her other
stimuli that capture her attention leaving her wondering what it was
she was thinking about or trying to decode in the first place, and
having her mind wander on a journey that at the time seems much more
relevant. And then there are the times that more often than not, the
output or input just gets sorted out too late, she misses the point,
or her point is not made in the time society sets out as criteria,
leaving her message unheard, or the information in not decoded in time
to be relevant.

Well the child and youth mental health system too is like those Denis
the Menace journeys. The path one must follow is far from typical.
It is far from the most efficient and timely process of reaching point
B from point A. Most of us as parents know instinctively when there
is something wrong with our child our most effective path to our
destination, treatment for our child, is to the family doctor. If the
problem is beyond the scope of his or her office, they will gladly map
our course guiding us to the destination of treatment. We can then
easily travel this path following the directions and arrive at
treatment. However, that is not the case when it is a mental illness
your child suffers from.

If I were to draw the journey taken from time of realizing my daughter
needed help to the destination of treatment, it too would have looked
like one of those Denise the Menace comic strips, weaving in and out
of different specialities, it would show dead ends, road blocks, and
U-turns that force me to re-trace many steps. Some of the dead ends
it would show where I stood in line for endless amounts of time while
all those in front of me, also trying desperately to find destination
treatment awaited to see if this indeed was their destination, or if
their journey too must continue.

The difference between my drawing and those of Denis, would be that
they would not include many of the "fun" things experienced, you would
not see me making rest stops at friend's houses because many friends
were unavailable to assist in my journey. You would not see me
chasing off the path to catch up with my daughter while she played
with her friends, because friends are a precious comodity and not in
abundance for her. I would be depicted as a very small dot, in a very
vast space, feeling very lost, and very alone.

I believe one of the main problems is that we are not taught the map
we will need. We in most cases do not even know the map exists. If
we think of the government and the services they provide as the maps,
we use the Health map to help us navigate our way to destination
treatment. We explore the roads, the communities, the cul de sacs
that we are familiar with and that are well-traveled and that we have
been taught will lead us to destination treatment, and we are further
taught that destination treatment has an express lane for children.
The problem is, this is the wrong map, the map we need is the map that
in service stations collect dust because no one ever needs to buy it,
in fact the teller does not even know they carry it because no one
ever wants to visit those places. The map we need is the Child and
Youth Services Map. If we are lucky enough to stumble across this map
we then realize that the language it is written in and the legend it
uses to help us navigate is like nothing we have ever seen before. It
is nothing we are familiar with, and when we gather with friends and
families to help break the code, they too are unfamiliar, and not only
that, after looking at the destinations on the map, they have no
interest in learning the language or travelling any the roads with
you. No, these roads are often ungroomed, less than well-traveled,
and not in the communities you have ever visited, and the roads to
take you there look very intimidating, leaving you wondering if you
even have the right vehicle that will be required on the journey. You
will even find yourself feeling very lost in what seems like a field
of weeds, convinced there is no one else on this journey, and never
has anyone travelled it but you. If you are lucky enough to come upon
another, and you ask for direction, often times they are as lost as
you, and need direction too.

My fear is that if I am to give advice on getting to know the child
and youth mental health system, it too would look like the Denis the
Menace comic strips, and that by the time the path was followed it
would leave one feeling still confused. I am not even sure I can
explain it to myself - I live it, and I feel better that I at least
now use the proper map, and have taught myself the language and the
legend, so am better equipped, but fully understand it, no I will
leave that for the experts. But here is what I will say - the most
effective tool from mother to mother, family to family, parent to
parent that I can tell you about, your internal compass. It will
guide you and help keep you pointed in the direction of destination
treatment. Others will try to tell you your compass is broken, has
perhaps been affected somehow by external factors, but your compass is
immune to those external factors when it is seeking destination
treatment for your child. Rely on it, refer to it often, and always
remember why the destination is so crucial. Teach yourself the
language of the maps, familiarize yourself with all the communities,
and cul de sacs of the Child and Youth Mental Health System map.
Learn the legend, and the codes that will act as route markers along
your way. Also remember, no matter how deep in the weeds you feel you
are, and no matter how alone and lost you feel on your journey, if you
stop, listen and look carefully, there are many of us on the same
journey with you. Some of us have even learned some of the
short-cuts, have tips on how to read the legend, can decipher the
language, and we are all willing guides ready to walk with you on your
journey. We are only a few clicks away at

One last thought, remember when we read those comics? We laughed, we
all felt Denis was endearing. We sympathized with his mother, but
celebrated Denis' free spirit, and I am guessing many of us wished
that we could be a little more like Denis, not always needing to
conform to and follow the beaten path. We need to remember this when
we deal with our children, celebrate their quirks because they make
them unique, give them the patience required so that their messages
can take those extra steps required because the message that they have
to give us is important and it needs to reach not only our ears, but
our hearts.

Add comment 2010-06-01 Sarah Cannon

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Thanks for being there!!! … Member, PCMH