Category Archives: Study

Doctor, Doctor

physician-symbol-hiThis is my final post for the 2015 Blogathon which was hosted by a professional freelance writing group to which I belong.

Thank you to those of you who hung on, read, liked and provided comments during the month. It was an excellent challenge but, truth be told, I’ll be happy to blog less frequently for the next little while.

Today my children and I had a doctor’s appointment. But, before I get to the crux of this post, let me back up for a moment… If you’re American (or, rather, if you’re not Canadian and not familiar with our medical system), you may think that finding a family doctor, booking an appointment, and seeking out appropriate medical treatment is easy-peasy. 

True, most medical appointments, treatments and interventions are “free” (paid for by tax dollars) but finding a family doctor in your area who is taking on new patients is no easy feat. And, booking an appointment with a doctor or specialist can take weeks or months. They’re that booked up!

My doctor works downtown and we are far uptown. Driving downtown, even for a short appointment, is a journey in itself.  Luckily, our doctor is an awesome woman whom we’ve seen for many, many years.  Today, it struck me how complicated medical intervention is for mental health issues.

What's around the corner?

What’s around the corner?

For example, let’s say your child has a broken arm: You drive to emergency, check in, have the arm x-rayed, diagnosed, casted and go to follow up appointments.

Or, let’s say your child has asthma. You have her tested, receive feedback, perhaps get a “puffer” or other medicine and learn to adapt. I realize it’s not always this easy but in many cases an injury or illness can be addressed directly.

Mental health conditions (for kids and adults) are generally never straightforward. Usually, other conditions have to be ruled out because there’s often no 100% accurate diagnosis. Then, even if a disorder is identified, say it’s ADHD or autism or schizophrenia or OCD, the treatment, counselling, meds, follow ups, etc. etc. are often tweaked and changed – possibly over the course of a lifetime.

“Wait and see” can be frustrating and tiresome for everyone involved. Sometimes a clean diagnosis (even for something scary) is less ominous than a “Well, we could try this but…” explanation with no real end in sight. Those of you who live with mental health challenges or parent someone who does will know exactly what I mean!

The Waiting Game

waitlistI’m sad to say I missed a day of blogging yesterday. Dock me ten points during the blogathon. ):

Ironically, I missed posting because I was attending a parent advisory board meeting for a mental health organization and passed out cold when I got home around 9 pm. This was the first meeting of a newly configured board of (mostly) women whose families are affected by mental health challenges.

One issue that always comes up when talking about mental health intervention is waiting lists. The waiting list is the torturous reality that most, if not all, parents and children face after contacting a government-run mental health care agency.

Rarely will a child be seen right away. If there’s a real crisis (and we joked last night about the clinician’s version of crisis versus the family’s version), families can head to their nearest ER and be seen within a few hours.

However, most families require short or long-term counselling and programs for their child in addition any crisis intervention.Because waiting lists are so long (many people wait 1o months or more before their first appointment), frustration, sadness and stress ensues.

What can be done? I’ll be posting more about Ontario’s changing mental health strategy (of which I have some insight) in the coming months. The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) also has a decent list of ideas for children and families currently on waiting lists, including:

  • Checking in frequently with your family doctor
  • Putting your child or youth onto other lists for services in your community/city
  • Taking advantage of any employee insurance or private services (which can often happen within days) available
  • Spending good quality time with your child
  • Getting enough rest and having fun with the whole family in order to reduce stress

We have a long, long way to go before lists can be cut down to more reasonable wait times. Parents and kids with mental health challenges have enough on their plates and sitting on a waiting list for months at a time does nothing to counteract that frustration.

Sensitive much?

First off, some “housekeeping” as the corporate folks like to say. The reason I’m posting like crazy all of a sudden is because I’ve joined a “blogathon”. This special virtual event has all members posting once a day for the month of June. So far I’m on track. However, I hope those of you who are following my blog won’t get overwhelmed; after the blogathon, I plan to post weekly or bi-weekly.

emotional brainToday’s topic? Sensitivity. These days, there’s a lot of buzz around “highly sensitive people”.

Said to feel things more deeply than others, HSP can use their gifts to accelerate life but need to be aware of their limits, too.

According to Dr. Elaine Aron’s Highly Sensitive People web site, highly sensitive children and adults:

  • Are easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby
  • Notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art
  • Have a rich and complex inner life
  • Were seen as particularly sensitive or shy by parents and teachers

Does this sound like you or your child? I know I can relate. While I am sociable and love concerts and parties, I can also get overwhelmed and stressed out by loud noises such as sirens, fireworks, dogs barking, or loud children.

Do you think you or your children might be highly sensitive too? Do you want specific tools to help your children feel more comfortable in their own skin? In addition to Aron’s child-focused sensitivity quiz, another amazing resource is author and speaker Maureen Healy. Give their sites, books and blogs a quick tour; I’m sure you’ll find many valuable tips.

What have you learned from your highly sensitive child? Do you see this as an affliction or a blessing?

We Are Family

A Clear Path

Next week I’ll be attending the Vanier Institute’s Families in Canada conference. As a freelance writer  focused on subjects relating to children, parenting, mental health and social development, this is the perfect learning event.

How I’ll attend the myriad sessions in only two short days, I do not know. Themes include everything from LGBT issues to divorce, poverty, gender, northern families, volunteering, education, violence and love;  obviously there aren’t many topics that can’t be intertwined into the concept of “family”.

One of my favourite reflections on family is written by my writer colleague Christina Frank. The Half-Life of the Divorced Parent,posted on the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, is not only brilliantly written but poignant, clever and sad. I often think of Christina’s words as I go through my own parenting journey.

No one expert or speaker can define the complex topic of family as it means different things to different people. Trust, honesty, loyalty, friendship, secrets, ties, heritage, culture, blood relations, laughter, tears, journey, protection…

What does family mean to you?

You, Me + Toxic Beauty

Opening disclaimer: Trusted blog readers, fear not; I have not forsaken you. I’ve begun a new job and still freelance on the side. So, needless to say: life is busy. Thank you for understanding.

ToxicBanner_0

Toxic banner from ED web site

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of attending Environmental Defence Canada’s “eco-beauty” event in downtown Toronto.

Now, what does eco-beauty and toxic cosmetics have to do with kids’ mental health? Stay with me…

Environmental Defence puts on an eco-beauty event about once every six months. Open to the public, certified members share their wares for education and profit. And, boy were the products enticing. Vendors offered organic, non-toxic cosmetic and beauty items such as:

  • Bath and hair oil and baby oil
  • Body lotion
  • Lipsticks, lip balms, face lotions
  • Natural deodorants, hemorrhoid creams and sore throat remedies

Bloggers were also treated to a short presentation about the “toxic ten”: These are “cancer-causing, hormone-disrupting, and allergy-inducing substances that have been banned or restricted in European products that can still be found in Canadian products.”

The toxic ten ingredients include: triclosan, artificial musk, parabens, phthalates, petrolatum, BHA and BHT. Find out more by visiting the ED’s page on toxins in personal care products.

Now the link between mental health and toxins? Beyond obvious concerns and links between ingesting toxins and the physical and mental health of adults, babies and children, researchers have found that triclosan is an endocrine disruptor: “substances that interfere with the body’s hormones…suppress[ing] the activity of mast cells, which are important to the functioning of the immune system.”

Evaluating all of this data leads me to re-read ingredients included not only in food and drink but also in my and my children’s shampoos, conditioners, body wash, body lotion, medicines, etc.

What about you?

Mental Health Week 2013: Meds and Kids

Canadian Mental Health Week 2013

A Kids ‘n’ Mental Health Wordle for a Rainy Day in May

Greetings, Blog Readers. I apologize for the large gap in posts. I’ve been working a lot and getting up to speed on new content, technology, travel, etc.

Mental Health Week is almost over and I feel compelled to post something on this topic as it’s so relevant to my blog.

Recently, the topic of mental health & medication has come up. I’ve read quite a few blog posts and articles by those opposed to having children take medication for “minor” mental health-related diseases and syndromes such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and Asperger Syndrome.

Beyond life-saving results for some, prescription medication can have devastating side-effects. From lethargy to increased anxiety, dry mouth, trouble sleeping and decreased appetite (I sound like an announcer on one of those pharma co. TV commercials!), the vast majority of physicians and parents of children with mental health disorders consider medication very, very carefully before introducing it to their child.

Many questions abound:

  • Do the pros out way the cons?
  • Will medication make the child’s life easier and better?
  • Does the child (if she’s old enough to understand) want to take the medication to increase quality of life?
  • Is this a “forever thing” or can he eventually be weaned off?
  • Will “talk therapy” combined with medication improve the situation even more than taking meds alone?

What are your thoughts on children and mental health medication? Do you have any experience with improvement or devastating effects? Did therapy help more than meds for your child? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

A Trip Down Bipolar Road…

Barry Shainbaum

Barry Shainbaum

I was recently introduced to Barry Shainbaum through a colleague. Creative leader, entrepreneur, broadcaster, mentor, counselor and “bipolar survivor”, Barry shares his history of mental illness and advice with us.

Q:  What advice do you have for children currently living with mental illness?    

A: You are possibly at the very beginning of a long journey — “a journey into yourself.”  The road to living with and possibly even overcoming mental illness can be multifaceted and one encompassing medication, psychotherapy and spiritual exploration.

Q: How has your struggle shaped who you are today?

A: My struggle of overcoming bipolar disorder was a tortuous winding road encompassing twenty years.   From an illness that came close to taking my life, today life is rich and full, both personally and professionally, with many creative ventures.  I have evolved to become a person who finds joy in each and every day, and in the smallest things in life.  I have also become aware of the power of persistence, hope, meditation, visualization, nature, love and synchronicity.

Q: Do you think mental illness (in adults and children) invokes creativity? Do you think people who haven’t “suffered” or felt pain can be truly creative?

A: The creative urge is often greater in those facing mental health problems, as there is a need to express the pain, confusion, and to search for meaning and joy amidst darkness.  Why has it been said countless times that there is a fine line between genius and insanity?   Perhaps, those with the most pain have to work so much harder on their lives, and often that means transcending boundaries.  I have also read that [people feel] joy to the same extent that they have suffered. I agree with that statement.

Q: Do you think society will ever be free of stigma or will people living with mental health always be stigmatized?

A: Stigma against those with mental illness is slowly being eroded.   The more that mental illness and mental health issues are discussed and the more that well-known figures come forward and talk about their challenges, the more stigma will be reduced. I see a future where, those diagnosed with mental illness are told, “In time your diagnosis will unlock the door to a life grander than it had been, had you never [been] ill.”

Q: What tools, tips, or resources helped you most as a youth struggling with bipolar disorder?

A: When I “fell ill” in 1970, there were not the resources that there are today.   As a volunteer, I currently run a men’s group at the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario and at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. I recommend that a person receiving a diagnosis of mental illness  begin [their journey] in the library. Read about the numerous aspects of mental illness: psychiatric, psychological, genetic, relationship, environmental and spiritual.   It can be overwhelming so read a little bit at a time. And remember: Life is full of problems. And by facing our problems, we evolve and grow.


Barry Shainbaum overcame bipolar disorder 24 years ago.   He works in 5 disciplines:  professional speaker, photographer, radio broadcaster, singer/musician in senior homes and as a mental health consultant.  He is also a juggler!  Barry is the author of two books:  Hope and Heroes, and Dancing in the Rain.  His website is: barryshainbaum.com