Children's Mental Health Day: An important reminder from our CEO
May 16, 2019
The following post was written by Wood’s Homes CEO, Dr. Jane Matheson, who shared it with approx. 60 guests at our organization’s Children’s Mental Health Day Open House on May 9.
The event was held at our new Inglewood campus, which now is home to all of our street services for homeless youth. These combined programs and services are now part of the EXIT Youth Hub.
This year, Children’s Mental Health Day was on May 9 and once again, Wood’s Homes took the opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of paying attention to our mental health.
Many of us who have been in the business of caring for and helping children and their families for years would say we have come a long way with understanding and accepting our ‘mental health’ while many others would say we still have such a long way to go.
Perhaps both are true.
Maybe taking baby steps – opening our minds to one or two small ideas at a time is what will eventually change what can be so mysterious and scary. I offer simply two here, and then a small appreciation.
Firstly, if we called it Children’s Physical Health Day we would all understand what that meant; there would be no skirting around the words, no wondering about what being physically healthy is all about, no shame in admitting to taking up an exercise routine, suffering with a broken leg, being a vegetarian, finding out you have cancer, a bad cold or an infection. In fact, sometimes these are badges of honour.
But say the words mental and health in the same sentence and then listen to the silence. We are embarrassed, we are afraid; we are ashamed; we are secretive, we are shocked or we just simply change the subject.
And yet the very essence of who we are is not just our body. That structure simply houses the complications – the joys and sorrows - of our lives and how we make sense of them. How we communicate the core of who we are, reach out to others with emotion, respond to others similar experiences and feelings - this is what mental or emotional health and well-being is about. And yet, it scares us.
We want to be seen by others as strong and we still think emotions are weak. We want to be perfect and see mistakes as failures. We are afraid and think others will not notice if we hide our vulnerabilities behind pomposity, jokes or sarcasm. We develop anxiety. We choose an addiction to something. We starve ourselves or hint at despair. We are lonely and pretend we are not. We long for connection and yet fear rejection. We might not like to admit to striving for ‘mental’ health but our emotions can sure offer ways to get in the way of that very thing.
The next time someone tells you not to “take it personally” try saying “if it’s not personal, what it is?”
Secondly, and let us remember – we were all once children and the children of today will be the adults of tomorrow and on and on it goes. I often marvel that we talk about ‘children’s mental health’ like it is something outside ourselves. In fact, it is now common knowledge that most mental health issues manifesting themselves in adulthood began in childhood – be it from a traumatic event, witnessing domestic violence, an accident, a grievous loss. Some of these events are simply the stuff of life – events that we need help to understand and use to develop our own resilience to bend with those winds that often blow cold.
Children’s mental health is really our own mental health – in helping children we help ourselves.
That is what we do at Wood’s Homes every day. Sometimes there is major success and joy with the changes we see, and sometimes there is sadness beyond measure – sadness that we need to find ways to transform.
One such transformation was initiated by Miss Adventure and no speech about child and family mental health is complete without a special mention of this young woman and her family and the people who were determined to help her emotional well-being.
You may be saying “who?” A strange name for a young person. Yes, very true. Nevertheless, it is a name that holds countless stories and memories for many of us at Wood’s Homes. Miss Adventure was a real person with parents who loved her. She had a feisty nature and while she battled demons that were hard to wrestle to the ground – she also brought a lot enjoyment and challenge to our work over some years, a few decades ago.
Sadly, Miss Adventure did not live to see the unfolding of her own tremendous potential. However, she did become the catalyst for the creation of many of the programs now located in our new Inglewood campus. Over the past 20 years, many of the hundreds of young people who came to the doors of our programs –EXIT Community Outreach, New Horizon, the employment and culinary programs – often came unwillingly or burdened with fear or shame and with little hope for the future. Thanks to much of what we learned from Miss Adventure we have been able to help them. Her challenges with mental health encouraged us, told us cautionary tales, informed us and transformed us.
We celebrate her and her legacy as well as the countless other children who teach us – about ourselves and others – often without realizing it.