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When “Let’s Talk” hits home

I know there will be those who point out that Tourette’s itself is a neurological disorder and not a “mental illness,” but the fact is that when you add in the co-occuring disorders like OCD and anxiety, and the stress and social isolation that it can lead to, Tourette’s does become a mental health issue, and that is something we need to be able to talk about.

When Let’s Talk Hits Home (from the “Rethink Child and Adolescent Mental Health” Facebook page)

I’ve been researching into the causes and treatments of mental illness for over 15 years, working with families and kids facing everything from an uphill climb to Armageddon itself, and everything between.

A few months ago, I found myself sitting on the opposite side of the table.

My youngest is facing Tourette’s syndrome with all its associated issues – problems with attention, learning difficulties, anxiety, and the like.

Has this changed how I feel about him? Not one bit. I always marveled at his tenacity – but trying to keep up with two older brothers will develop that. He’s funny, compassionate, clever, and creative. I know in my heart and my head, regardless of course of illness, he will persevere.

Every tic still evokes a visceral reaction me, though. Every difficulty in school met with a desire to solve it NOW. Even though he has a great group of friends at school, it is hard not to worry about bullying as the tics become more apparent.

Like every parent, I want my child to be OK. But he is not;he is facing a major hurdle, a true test of character … in elementary school.

My biggest concern in elementary school was learning how to draw the Star Trek Enterprise properly.

Working in the field and knowing every statistical outcome is no comfort, when – like every other parent – you negate the potential good to focus on the potential bad. It just gives you more to worry about, but now with numbers and probabilities attached!

Given his age, we know we are likely at the bottom of the hill, where things will get worse for a while, then – hopefully – get better into adulthood.

Last night he asked his mom if the tics will ever go away. Telling the truth doesn’t make it hurt less — for him or us.

We also know the tics are the least of the worries. How this plays out at school – anxiety, learning and attention wise — will be critical for his development for the rest of his life.

We’ve been lucky to have great support from his teachers, the people I work with, and our families, along with access to talented clinicians who can help us plot our course of action. I also knew where to start, not to wait and be proactive and many families do not.

Why am I writing this? Bell Let’s Talk Day is all about bringing these issues to light and I, as someone working to change things in pediatric mental health, feel it is incumbent on me to act. My feelings are the same feelings other parents have – a lovely combination of fear and hope.

As a society we need to normalize discussions of mental health. Our mental health is at the heart of all we do and all that we are. For too long, shame and superstition has ruled the day over reason and understanding. As a parent, observe, talk to your kids, and most important of all, be open.

People with a mental health issue are no different from anybody else. Indeed, given the statistics, even if you are lucky enough to be OK yourself, odds are overwhelming that someone you love is not. I’ve done enough workshops and talks with professionals and the public to know that even good people can harbor residual stigma about mental illness. It is time to reach out and put those outdated feelings aside.

The science has marched on; people can no longer discount mental illness as simple bad behavior. Indeed, people clinging to those beliefs have more in common with those who equate it to witchcraft or possession – both positions are devoid of reason and embrace ignorance.

Families across Canada are facing similar trials to mine,with many facing much worse. The strength that can be drawn from acceptance from one’s community is critical.

Be a friend, be family. Reach out.

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