National Child and Youth Mental Health Day

By Sondous Husien, Crisis Counsellor at Eastside Community Mental Health Services


When I think about how the mental health system could run a bit better, which I often do when I support families with finding resources, the first thing that comes to mind is that the biggest gap in our system is that we do not always have the chance to build connections and increase a young person’s support system. In today’s world, especially post-pandemic, a lot of opportunities to build connections have been missed because of how our communities and programs are set up. One of the key ways to ensure that individuals can look after their mental health focuses on not being isolated or feeling alone in their struggle. Communities and connections address that, but our society does not always champion that. And sometimes, unfortunately, our response to young people enforces that lack of connection.

When meeting with families, I often hear from young people that they wish their parents/ caregivers would just listen. That young person will even go on to say that they understand the adult’s response, but they just wanted to feel heard in that moment. I think many of us can empathize with that experience which can happen anytime regardless of our age. We often hear parents describe their child’s behavior as “attention-seeking” and that because this behavior is about attention, there must be some kind of consequence to the behavior.

Young people are not seeking attention, they are looking for connection. It is how they build their identity and figure out who they are in the world. Adolescence really is the age when teens begin to figure out who they are, what they stand for, and how they treat others. Their interactions with their peers help develop their social skills and help them practice building connections, but their relationship with adults is what they use to role model those connections. Imagine a situation where a young person learns not to ask for support because the adults in their life have never done so. How does that young person then feel when they meet someone their age that can ask for help?

Really, the point is that we continue to role model positive skills for our young people in the hope that this reduces the stigma of asking for support. During my studies, I remember a professor teaching us that if a young person was at risk, having just one caring adult in their life can build the resiliency that they need to be successful as they transition to adulthood. It is to say that if you do have a connection with a young person, you might find that they look up to you to show them how to make decisions in their life, even if they refuse to acknowledge it. I am sure that many of us who reflect on our past can remember that one adult that gave us the confidence to try something new or provided support when things got too hard. 

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been reflecting on all the student and youth-led movements in the world happening today, and I wonder how much of that was because these young people (whole communities of them) saw something they do not agree with but recognized from their own experience, that things could be better. Some adults out there might have made a significant impact on this young person’s life. And now we see so many young people out there trying to do that for others. To me, that is what National Child and Youth Mental Health Day is about: building connections between a young person and their caregivers. Having a clear message that the adult in someone’s life is there for support, and when their actions show they care about them it can mean to world to a young person struggling with their mental health. On May 7, Canada recognizes the National Child and Youth Mental Health Day as a day to build connections with our young people while breaking down stigma around young people accessing support for their mental health.

Without these connections, we face the risk of not having young people reach out for support, as it becomes a barrier to why they might not seek help. Adults sometimes forget that young people have agency and are trying to figure out how they fit into the world. They can ask for help and share when their mental health needs support, but I imagine many young people hold back from sharing when they perceive that the adults in their life are non-supportive. Child and Youth Mental Health Day should be a reminder to anyone that is worried about a young person’s mental health to connect with that person and check-in with how things are going. Be curious, be engaged, and remember that your judgments about the situation do not make up the whole story (there is always another side).