Dr. Kutcher

This post is by Dr. Stan Kutcher, Chair in Adolescent Mental Health and the Director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre in Mental Health Policy and Training at Dalhousie University.   It is from the Trafaigar Castle School Blog Post dated Feb. 21, 2018

Fostering Community

Mental health does not equal happiness.  Those were not the words I expected to hear from Dr. Stan Kutcher, Chair in Adolescent Mental Health and the Director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre in Mental Health Policy and Training at Dalhousie University.  Dr. Kutcher spent the day at Trafalgar Castle last week, working with a group of teachers and counselors from independent schools across Ontario, and then in the evening, speaking to our community.  His words and the directness of his delivery surprised me.  But as he continued to talk and share insight as someone working in the trenches with families, educators, and the health care system, his words began to make sense and resonate clearly.  The problems our children and teens are facing today, according to Kutcher, are particular to Western society.  In order to find solutions, we first need to understand how our parenting, our present-day beliefs, and our modern-day culture are impacting children’s mental health and overall well-being.  In other words, it’s less about taking a look at our children, and more about taking a look at ourselves.

At first glance, things are not looking good when it comes to child and adolescent mental health in Ontario.  Between 2006 and 2014[1], the rate of outpatient physician visits for mental health concerns grew by 25%.  Emergency room visits rose by 53%, and the rate of hospitalization for mental health and addiction issues increased by 56%.  Our schools, our community service providers, our emergency rooms, our hospitals – every part of the system is stretched and struggling to keep up with growing mental health needs.

Admittedly, there is no quick fix.  But according to Kutcher, simply improving our mental health literacy would go a long way to deescalating the panic and reducing some of the problem.  It’s not enough to have mental health awareness.  We also need to be literate in mental health, and that includes understanding four key components:  knowing how to achieve and maintain good mental health, understanding mental health disorders and the treatments that are available, reducing stigma, and teaching people how to access help when needed.

One of the biggest challenges we face is the misconception that positive feelings denote good mental health while negative feelings indicate a problem or disorder.  This strictly Western phenomenon, says Kutcher, is leaving parents (and by extension their children) susceptible to the idea that there’s something wrong with them if they’re sad, or disappointed, or upset.  Instead of teaching them that life is often hard, that negative emotions are a normal response to difficult situations, and that adversity breeds resilience, we have begun pathologizing typical experiences by too quickly throwing out labels.  “Instead of unhappy, disappointed, or discouraged, the word depression is used.  Instead of worried, concerned, or nervous, the word anxiety is used,” says Kutcher[2].   What children need is an opportunity to embrace life’s challenges and all the uncomfortable emotions that go along with them.  They need to learn that strategies are available to help them deal with problems independently, that they are capable of coping, and that it gets easier every time they pick themselves up and dust themselves off.  And most of all, according to Kutcher, they need to be allowed to deal with these difficulties with increasing independence.  READ MORE—>

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