In October 2013, I set out to work as an art therapist with families in transition from a
restored barn on my property in Kemptville. I expected mostly middle-aged women who
were overworked, stressed, overwhelmed and at some crossroad in their life. I was not
prepared for the wave of moms calling on behalf of their teen daughters. One mother
after another described living on the edge.
How do you sleep when your daughter texts you in the middle of the night because she
no longer wants to live? Where do you go when your suicidal daughter is released from
hospital and you must keep a constant watch for any clues that she might try again.
What happens when you discover that your daughter regularly harms herself? How do
you keep her safe from herself? Parents worry about their young girls starving
themselves while others witness a cycle of binging and purging. How do you infuse
calm in your teenager when she gets panic attacks or suffers from generalized anxiety?
How do you protect her from online bullies when it’s not your love and approval she
craves, it’s theirs.
A quick visit to the Royal Ottawa website revealed that:
“In the past year, The Royal has seen a 75% increase in mood disorders, a 22%
increase in moderate to severe substance use issues, and a 120% increase in youth
presenting with Borderline Personality Disorder”(www.theroyal.ca).
Borderline Personality Disorder makes relationships with others difficult. Between the
fear of rejection, high impulsivity and difficulty controlling emotions, life can get a bit
intense. Add to this the tendency to fluctuate in your perception of others from ideal to
disappointing. Your self image also changes based on other people’s response to you.
You cycle through anxiety, depression and anger which makes you a very unpredictable
Most parents looking for mental health support for their teenager will turn to hospitals.
However, they are confronted with the reality of long wait times to access the services
they urgently need. “Since 2009, the number of patients admitted to CHEO with suicide
risk has increased 33%, and the number with self injury has increased 61%. This past
year, CHEO has seen a 17% increase in the number of admissions with moderate to
severe substance use issues” (www.theroyal.ca).
What do we do?
“For the past 5 years, The Royal and CHEO have partnered to form the Children and
Youth – Specialized Psychiatric and Mental Health Services program (CY-SPMHS). This
program delivers specialized psychiatric and mental health services for children and
youth under shared regional leadership and using a centralized intake
Councillor Allan Hubley took action when his son Jamie committed suicide following his
release from hospital. He recognized the need for services to support families between
their release from hospital and access to professional services. “The Bridge Project is a
collaborative effort between the Youth Services Bureau (YSB), CHEO, Ottawa Public
Health and the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group to provide critical mental health
services for the youth who need it most” (www.ottawasun.com).
As the mother of young girls, this information is alarming. As a mental health
professional, it urges me to get busy. I decided to volunteer my art therapy skills to the
Kemptville Youth Centre on a monthly basis to connect with local teens. I am currently
working on an art therapy app that would allow teens to work through issues when and
where they need help (in the middle of the night), using the very technology they
already possess. This could easily be shared among teens. The outcome of activities
within this app could then be e-mailed to a mental health professional, providing crucial
If you are a parent, remember that your teenager needs you. If you are a teacher,
recognize your impact on each teenager in your class. If you are a member of this
community, make time for youth, share your skills or just listen to them. If you are a
mental health professional, join me in meeting the needs of local families.