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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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The Importance of Support

We have all talked about it-compared it to if our children had been diagnosed with a potentially life-threating illness that was of a physical origin rather than a mental one. The natural support that would be offered to us by friends, family, neighbours, those involved in the treatment of our ill children. We know that when our children are diagnosed with a mental illness there are no casseroles, no special houses erected where we can gain comfort from other families while our children fight in hospital settings, we are left to feel alone and lost. I felt that way when nearly a decade ago my daughter was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I watched helplessly as those I thought were my closest friends began inviting my family over less and less, conversations with them became fewer and fewer, likey because I would not accept their impressions that what my daughter was dealing with was a "phase" and perhaps I needed to be "tougher". I was also lost on my journey of finding my daughter help - and at one point was told by a "professional" that my "obsession" with her problems was "abnormal", again making me question what my gut, my maternal instincts were telling me - My daughter needs help, she is suffering and I need to find her relief. So yes I lost friends, at points along the way I lost confidence in my own instincts as a mother and whether or not I really was to blame for what tormented my daughter - then I found a support group. I listened to stories that mirrored mine, to emotions that I had felt, and learned that I was not the only one feeling alone and lost, and that in itself made me feel not so lonely, not so lost. We knew around that table that we were safe - we could talk about our children without condescending looks or comments all the while implying that we were looking for excuses for our lack of parenting skills, we learned from each other of strategies that worked to help calm the torment, of paths that might lead us through the maze of systems of services we are asked to traverse as we seek help - we became each other's guides, friends, and support system. I have learned that the friends I lost I am not worse off because of, because they have been replaced by true friendships and connections. Some of my closest friends are friends I have met through PCMH, they are my family now. They are the ones that can keep me grounded through the most trying times because I can talk to them and know that they know and understand and have been there too, and they know that when they need it, the friendship will be reciprocated. I no longer listen to suggestions that my daughter is going through a phase and this too will pass, I get support, understanding, help in coping, and for that I am a better parent to my daughter no doubt. I have also learned that this support system which I sought out purely selfishly as I needed support, has also had a profound positive impact on my daughter. As I have become friends with other families who experience the same things I do, we have begun to socialize, our children have been brought together, they too see they are not alone, they are not the only ones going through these troubles, and they are given opportunities to be with friends who without explanation and discussion accept them, because they know and they too appreciate not having to explain it or worry about whether or not they will offend their new friend. It reduces their anxiety knowing no matter what it will be okay because everyone "gets it". I have gone camping with my new friends with our children, and out to dinner, and visiting at their homes, and it was not an issue. None of us worried about what type of "mood" our children were going to be in - whether the actions of our children might offend our new friends and cost yet another social connection - because there was no doubt, no concern that instead of judgment or taking offense, if any of the children did display symptoms of their illness we would get understanding, compassion, and the space required to deal with it. My daughter has gained a whole new network of support - of people who believe in her and see her uniqueness and special qualities that often times other tend to overlook because they cannot get beyond the stigma of the name of her illness. She has more people than just her parents re-enforcing for her what a precious gift she is, and it gives her the encouragement to fight through even her darkest days, it allows her to continue to talk about how she feels, what she is scared of, and proves she is worth life. Because of my new family, my daughter stands a better chance at life, their children stand a better chance at life, and I know I am better for knowing them, and am a better parent because of them, because what they provide me in just their gentle understanding and accetance is more than any class, course, training, or counselling session can provide.
Parents for Children's Mental Health bases their Support Programming on this not because it is proven through research and evidence (which it is), but because we have been there and we understand the true value of support and being involved and included and intrinsically know this - no research, data, or analysis required - we have lived it, we feel it, and we have experienced first-hand the true benefits and positive outcomes it provides. I never thought of myself as someone who needed a "support group" convinced I needed to be strong and "deal with it", it was only when I had literally reached my wits end and was willing to try anything that I attended. My only regret is that I did not attend sooner, and in looking back I realize that I was missing out on such a valuable tool through my journey. Even if you feel you are not the "type" that would benefit from a support group and the thought of attending one just adds time and pressure to your already overwheleming day - try it - you might just find that it is the most valuable tool you give yourself and a gift that you find that truly makes all the difference and gives you strength and support to do what needs to be done so our children are given hope. PCMH "gets it" we are a group of parents and families who have been where you are, and we are here to support, empower, and educate - to become a member - but more realistically to become our friend, and a part of our family!

Add comment 2010-10-19 Sarah Cannon

Thank you so much for putting into words what I feel in my heart. It is such a comfort to be linked with people who truly understand what it is like to walk in our shoes. Many well meaning friends, or should I say the few that stand by after diagnosis often are anything but helpful. I actually had a former friend tell me he would kill my child to put her out of her misery! I can't imagine that if if my child had cancer that he would have said forget the chemo I will just put the child out of their misery! PCMH has been a lifeline at my lowest of lows and I thank you for all that you do to make a difference in the lives of all our children!

Posted: Tuesday October 19, 2010 08:10 PM

Sarah - you have summarized so many of our experiences so eloquently! Thank you! Those of us who are privileged enough to count you among our friends are also grateful for your incredible energy, support through all times and most of all - your great sense of hunour!

Posted: Wednesday October 20, 2010 02:10 PM

A Ministry Hot Potatono way! Once upon a time some people thought that children and youth mental health would be better served under a different ministry, so it was moved to MCYS. Has it worked? Are our children well served? NO!! So its time to go back to the way it was. We as mental health advocates say that we want mental health illness to be treated, and thought of, in the same way that physical health is treated. In my opinion that means they need to be treated in the same system. The other problem with childrens mental health being under MCYS is that adult mental health is under the Ministry of Health. It is no wonder that transition for youth to the adult system is so difficult. I agree with Liz we dont need any more research, we need action. The Select Committee did an amazingly thorough job. They produced a very well thought out report. Does every person agree with every part of it? No. The committee members talked about the challenges they had in getting consensus. There will never be a report that everyone agrees with 100%. I believe it is time for us as parents to stand up and support the Select Committees Report and demand that the government implement it A.S.A.P. Donna

Posted: Monday October 25, 2010 09:10 AM

Main Blog Page family is coming through this with the support of PCMH and its members. I have drawn much of my strength from posts I read on this page every day. … Member, PCMH