I feel a need to highlight the deficit and treatment of mental illness still taking place in this day and age. I am a British citizen who currently resides and works in Canada. I have more than 7 years’ experience in the field of child protection and mental health, working with both children and adults in the United Kingdom and North America. In the UK, I helped develop and establish policies for organizations and charities that are used internationally. From direct experience, I realize that mental health is a global issue.
I have worked in London, UK, for several years and also in Alberta, Canada, and I have noticed similarities and differences with how mental health is managed and the deficits in the treatment of mental health issues. Mental health issues in adults are becoming more accepted by society, and we are openly talking more about them. More research about mental health is being done, and resources available to support adults with different needs are increasing.
However, we still struggle to address mental health in children and youth. The support and resources to address individual behaviours are limited unless a diagnosis has been made; to get the help required, parents may have to exaggerate their child’s behaviors, conform to checklists for diagnoses or fight the system, taking their child to multiple professionals to get a “label.” I believe that this system damages the parents and the youths themselves.
In my experience, in London, most children with a mental health diagnosis were offered both medication and talk therapy to support them with integrating back into society. However, the resources available to children — with and without diagnoses — were limited (e.g., special behavioural schools, after-school activities, residential homes).
In Alberta, although mental health issues in children are readily diagnosed and there are resources available, medication seems to be the preferred course for preserving mental health talk therapy seems extremely limited.
Talk therapy and medication both have their benefits and downfalls. Talk therapy is more time-consuming and much more expensive than medication, but it appears to help with underlying issues (assuming there are any) and empowers the client to address them. Medication may reduce unwanted behaviours, but the adverse effects can be life changing. I often wonder whether in giving young people medication we are perhaps preserving their mental health while substantially decreasing their life span and, in some cases, their ability for social interaction, creating another form of dependency and further isolating them from society.
It is shocking to me that two children who present similar behaviours in a classroom can be offered such different levels of services and have such different outcomes for their behavior depending on whether or not they have a diagnosis. As a society, what can we do to help resolve some of these ongoing global issues?