August 12th is International Youth Day. Our youth are the backbone of society, a dynamic group that can implement positive changes both small and large. Many Canadian children and youth are affected by mental illness every year. How can they be helped?

Perhaps you have a child or teenager of your own, or you know someone who does. While children and teens can be rambunctious and fun loving, they can also experience mental health problems just like adults. In fact, 70% of mental health problems and illnesses have their onset during child and teenage years. This means that mental health is one of the most pressing issues facing young people today.

Parents are sometimes afraid of bringing up topics like depression, substance abuse, or suicide with their children. They may worry about the conversation feeling awkward, or even distancing their child from them. Similarly, many teens are uncomfortable telling their parents how they really feel – they may fear they could worry or disappoint their parents, or even that mom or dad “just won’t understand”.

As parents, it is important to normalize mental illness so that children and teens feel comfortable sharing any feelings or problems they may have. One way to do that is to tell them, “We can talk about anything at any time in this family.”

If you know a child or teen who is experiencing a mental illness like depression and may be suicidal, or who may be suffering from other disorders like anxiety and panic attacks, it is important to let them know they are not alone and there is help. As a parent, you can be relentless in searching for ways to help your child. Anything from dietary changes and exercise, mediation or talk therapy, can help.

Right by You is a website that provides a free guide for parents and caregivers to learn more about teen mental health. You can also sign up for weekly emails that provide tips on connecting with youth and insight into supporting their mental health.

Survivors of mental illness stress the importance of getting the help needed to move forward and live a healthy, fulfilling life. Let’s help the youth in our lives experience that health and happiness they deserve.