Event will shine a light on youth mental health
What parent hasn’t had their child wake up on a Monday morning and claim to be too sick to go to school, or call from a sleepover and ask to come home? It can be difficult for parents and professionals to determine whether kids are experiencing healthy childhood trepidations, or something more serious.
On Oct. 28, at Beth Tzedec Congregation in Toronto, the second annual Mental Health Empowerment Day will provide a forum for parents, educators and professionals to discuss issues surrounding youth who struggle with mental health problems.
Empowerment Day is geared toward school teachers, administrators and guidance counsellors, summer camp staff, social workers and directors of agencies that deal with children and young adults. The goal is to provide a forum for discussion and arm participants with concrete tools to take action within schools, community institutions and youth programs.
Torrey A. Creed, a clinical psychologist specializing in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) from the renowned BECK Institute in Philadelphia, will be the keynote speaker, addressing “CBT for Youth and Helpful Hints for Anxiety and ADHD.”
“Parents are desperately seeking answers to questions such as, ‘Do I push a child if they say they’re scared to go to school? Do I give in to that fear? Should I allow them to miss birthday parties or class trips and when do I push back? How do I teach my child how to fight back?’ If we can create a community of caring and understanding and people helping each other, we are all going to be better off. Our school systems, sports teams and home life will be better,” said Leanne Matlow, the educator and CBT counsellor who created Empowerment Day. “That’s why this day is so important.”
Allen Miller, the CBT program director at the BECK Institute, said, “It is important to listen to youth, to recognize the challenges they face and to join with them to help them work through their issues. We know that telling them what to do does not work. Some of the techniques for anxiety and ADHD include: relaxation, impulse control, exposure, behaviour reinforcement and problem solving.”
Michele Viner is a parent with a child affected by mental illness. “When you have a diagnosis of any type of mental health issue, it is one of the loneliest things. You don’t really know who to talk to about it. You’re trying to protect your child, but also yell it from the rooftops at the same time. In many ways, it builds understanding, empathy and adversity, but also a bit of grit, determination and courage,” said Viner.
“There is something powerful about a group of people coming together. These forums are exactly what will douse the flames of the stigma.”
One of the key objectives of Empowerment Day is to share stories of people who have experienced mental illness. Twenty-five-year-old Eli Brown is spreading awareness among young people with his Canadian-made clothing company, Shine The Light On. Brown, who will be one of the speakers, grew up in a loving Jewish home, but tucked away was a secret that not only left him struggling for years, but prompted an attempt to end his life.
“I was 14 years old when I went through sexual abuse – it was the father of a friend. I kept that a secret for about five years. I didn’t know who to reach out to,” said Brown. “I also felt a lot of shame and embarrassment with the whole situation. I turned to drugs and alcohol as my way to cope, which definitely led to more feelings of anxiety and depression.”
At 19, Brown sought help and eventually entered a treatment program for six months. “That’s when my life changed. My life turned around. I learned how to be sober and how to communicate with others. During that time, I spoke to Rabbi Aaron Flanzraich from Beth Shalom quite a bit,” said Brown. “I learned to go through my past and come to peace with it and not have it negatively impact my future.”
Brown launched Shine The Light On in seven retail stores across the Greater Toronto Area in 2016. Today, the thought-provoking designs intended to spark conversation are sold in over 1,000 stores across North America, and for every item sold, a percentage of the proceeds go to mental health initiatives.
The event will run from 12:30-6:30 p.m on Oct. 28 at Beth Tzedec Congregation in Toronto. To register, visit mhed.ca.