September 2010, Bell Canada began a new initiative with #BellLetsTalk campaign. Since, then every January 30th millions of Canadians across the country engage in an important conversation on Mental Health in solidarity and support to those impacted by mental health issues as well as to end the stigma on a once taboo topic.
Over the last nine years, the conversation on mental health has grown to be an important discussion in many different industries and circles. Although the conversations and support on mental health issues in relation to adults has increased, it is time to talk about mental health issues relating to children and youth.
Anxiety, depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress, and many other mental health issues impact children and youth the same way they impact adults. In fact, studies have revealed that 50% of cases of anxiety disorders began by the age of eleven. What is more alarming school board censuses are revealing students are feeling more stressed than ever before.
Mental health impacts everyone big and small. Students with learning disabilities are at a higher risk of developing mental health issues. The challenges leaners experience with LDs can present anxiety, feelings of shame, perfectionism, low-self-esteem etc. Supporting a child with a learning disability (or any other exceptional need) is also a challenging and overwhelming experience for parents. Some parents experience sentiments of guilt and blame associated to their child’s learning disability or confuse not knowing what happens next or what to do.
Recognize the Signs
Making sense and expressing thoughts and emotions does not come easy for everyone, especially children and youth. Learning to recognize the loud and silent cries for help is the first step in helping a child or parent that may need support
Motivated to avoid- Motivation serves to purposes to gain or avoid doing something. If you notice a child avoiding to-do specific homework, or any kind of task that is connected to their learning disability. The child may overcompensate in another area as a means of ‘look over here not over there’
The four Fs: Certain activities, words, sometimes even people can trigger reactions in a child. For example, going to school or doing homework can spark a state of emotional stress in a student or adult. In response to the stressful situation the individual may display one of the fours Fs: Fight, Fright, Freeze and Faint.
Learned Helplessness- Children with learning disability often mistaken for being ‘lazy’. In some cases, a student can feel that no matter how much effort the put in nothing will change, so why bother. Learned Helplessness is an example of fixed mindset.
Tears- Classic sign that something is wrong is crying. Crying is viewed as being weak, and this stereotype is causing many people to over burden themselves with stress.
There is no one way to help support child, youth or adult with mental health issues. However, taking part in great initiatives like #BellLetsTalk helps to encourage a conversation on mental health to combat stigma. Here are a few tips to help support someone in need.
Be the Ear- Sometimes we are so quick to give advice, direction or punish children that it is easy to overlook their emotions and what they are trying to express. Create opportunity for a student to express what it is they are going through and how they feel.
Partnership-The topic of learning disability is new and foreign. Both child and parents think it is an issue they must navigate alone. Mom and dad will not always have the answer but letting your child know understanding their learning disability is something they are learning as well, helps to reassure the child they are not alone their struggles.
Seek support- Every child is different and will need various support to help them in their needs. Seek support where it is needed the most, often time parents may focus on only supporting the academic side, and overlook other essential pieces to a child’s well-being.
Be Mindful- Be mindful of the words spoken to a student as well as the words we use for ourselves. Replace “I can’t” with I am growing and learning. Helping a student to adapt a growth mindset helps but understanding that our skills and talents are not fixed but everyone has the potential to improve their talents.
Have open conversation- Our society is being bombared with information, some facts other fake news and filtered. The younger generation is not always able to make the connection of what is real and what is fake. Study have shown that young girls tend to compare themselves to what is seen on social media post. Similarly, young children who have been recently diagnosis with a learning disability
In a world filled with some much diversity, it is important to recognize that what makes us different and special goes beyond skin deep. Everyone has the capacity to learn, everyone learns in their own special way. There are #NoLearningLimits to what a person can achieve and once we as a society understand that what makes us different makes us beautiful, we begin to #endstigma everywhere.