Written by Elyse Schipper
Executive Director of Parents Lifelines of Eastern Ontario
Every day we answer calls from parents who are devastated, terrified, and completely at a loss about what to do - their child is failing, and they are unable to help.
If you haven’t experienced first hand what it’s like to be a parent of a child facing mental health issues, try to imagine for a moment that you are sitting on a beach. You look out to see your child struggling to stay above water, drowning, and all you can do is sit there. You yell ‘help’ to the lifeguard, and she says ‘not now.’ You yell ‘help’ again, and she says ‘call me when your child is fully under, and you can’t see him anymore.’
When we hear about a child in our community who has died by suicide, as service providers we are rocked with grief and frustration. Because we know that this death did not come out of nowhere – that there were so many opportunities along the way, over years, to intervene for a better outcome. That the parents of this child, like so many who call us, have found only closed doors. Have been sent home from Hospital Emergency with a child deemed not quite high enough risk, left responsible for suicide watch; to lock up all the knives, the ropes, the pills, and to sleep outside their child’s room lest he wake up in the middle of the night and decide he can’t take it anymore.
When we talk about too-long wait times, or lack of access to the right care and quality care, we are talking about the things that make it almost impossible for a child and family facing mental health issues to ever thrive again, and in too many cases, to even survive.
And it is not for lack of trying. Mental health service providers are doing their part, always looking for ways to innovate, to stretch the budget, to collaborate, to improve outcomes. Parents are sacrificing everything – their jobs, their finances, their marriages, their own wellbeing. Siblings sacrifice their own childhood, as they fear for their own safety, for the life of their brother or sister, and as their parents are forced to make the impossible choice about which child’s needs can go unmet when there is only so much to go around.
There is only so far service providers and families can stretch, and there is only so long a child can hold on.
The Ontario government has voiced a commitment to improving child and youth mental health. What I am asking of you today, on behalf of all parents who just want a fighting chance, is to please make it possible for us to deliver on that promise. To ask yourself 'What would I do if this was my child and family?'. We will never give up on our children, and we need you to do the same. Thank you.
This is part of the speech that Schipper presented to the Standing Committee for Financial and Economic Affairs on January 17th, 2018 in Ottawa
*Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons*