Dr. Prakash Masand of COPE Psychiatry in HUFFPOST
8 Common Myths About Children, Teenagers And Mental Health Debunked
Kids don’t just “get over it.”
Parents always hope their children have happy, carefree childhoods. But increasingly, mental illness is a concern for Canada’s young people.
UNICEF’s 2017 report card found that the teenage suicide rate in Canada is above the international average and that youth are unsure about where to go for help when they struggle with mental health.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, Canada has the third highest suicide rate in the industrialized world but only one in five children who need mental health services receive them.
Just as stigmas and myths about mental health can harm adults, they can also harm children — especially those who are unable to, or unsure how to, access health care on their own. Here are some common myths about children, teens and mental health, and why they need to be debunked
Myth: Mental health treatment is a sign of weakness. My kids will get over it.
“This is still one of the most popular myths at any age,” Dr. Prakash Masand, a psychiatrist, told HuffPost Canada by email.
It is just as necessary to treat psychiatric problems as it is to treat other health issues. This focus on weakness can be particularly harmful for boys and young men. Research has shown that discrimination, racism, and gender stereotyping can harm men’s mental health over time.
“It is not a sign of weakness to seek help for your children,” Masand said. “It is a sign of courage to recognize a problem and try to find a solution.”
The province of Ontario has a page dedicated to mental health resources for youth and children, as does the province of British Columbia’s website. The Mental Health Commission of Canada also has a page dedicated to mental health resources that are available across the country.
Myth: If my child has mental health issues, it’s my fault
It’s true that there are sometimes environmental reasons, such as economic or social hardship, poverty, trauma, exposure to toxins, and abuse, for mental health issues, but many psychiatric problems have a direct biological cause and are in no way related to how a child is parented. And it is a sign of good parenting to recognize that your child is struggling and make sure they are helped appropriately.
Where parenting does matter is in offering support and love to your child. For example, trans youth are at a higher risk for mental health issues, overall, but those who felt they had supportive adults in their lives were four times more likely to report good or excellent mental health.
Myth: ADHD is just an excuse for bad behaviour and inadequate parenting
“ADHD is a psychiatric illness with a well-described constellation of symptomsand proven treatments,” Masand said. It’s often thought of as a childhood disorder, which may be why it’s sometimes blamed on a failure of parenting or discipline, but it can actually affect people of all ages.
“People with this disorder should not be ostracized or blamed,” he said. Treatment can make a big difference for a child with ADHD.
Myth: Mental illness will prevent my child from reaching their full potential
Many parents might worry that their child won’t be able to reach their full potential because they have a mental illness. But many of the world’s most successful people have dealt with mental illness, Masand said.
“Names like Isaac Newton, Winston Churchill, Beethoven, Brad Pitt, and Oprah Winfrey would hardly be seen as underachievers, yet they have all dealt with mental illness at some point in their lives,” he said.
Myth: It’s just a phase. My child will grow out of it.
Some people experience mental illness at one point in their lives, and never again. But it can’t be known when that will happen.
As with any illness, prompt treatment for mental illness is the best path. “If a mental illness is left untreated, they can become more difficult to treat in adulthood and develop into more serious issues,” Masand said.
Myth: Kids these days are too soft
Children have many struggles of their own, for any number of reasons. “We live in a society where kids suffer more and more isolation and loneliness leading to anxiety, obsessive worries, and depression,” Dr. Fran Walfish, a psychotherapist, told HuffPost Canada by email.
And some kids are particularly susceptible to mental illness, including suicidal ideation. For example, First Nations and Inuit communities in Canada experience a much higher rate of suicide, and Nunavut has one of the highest suicide rates in Canada, although the territory’s suicide rate recently hit a 10-year low.
Myth: Cutting is just a sign my kid is trying to be tough
Cutting or other self-harm behaviours are a symptom to take seriously in children and adolescents. “Teens often cut or self-mutilate as a negative way to cope with anxiety or depression,” Walfish said.
The Canadian Mental Health Association says that self-injury is most common among teens and females, but counselling and support can help. Cutting needs to be taken seriously because it can lead to permanent injury, and is a risk factor for suicide.
Myth: People this young don’t kill themselves
It is tragic to think of a child choosing to end their lives, but it does happen. In Canada, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24, and tied for sixth most common cause of death for children aged one to 14.
“Immediately seek professional if you suspect suicide is a possibility,” Masand said.