Today is the first day of Children’s Mental Health Week: May 7 to 13

By Barbara Collins, Art Therapist, Kinark Child and Family Services

Children’s Mental Health Week is intended to increase awareness about the prevalence of child and youth mental health issues and decrease the stigma associated with mental illness, making it easier for children, youth and their families to seek the treatment they need.

For the past month, Kinark staff and clients have been participating in a collaborative art initiative to build a brick wall symbolizing the stigma often associated with mental illness and the barriers that sometimes prevent people from seeking help.

As a registered art psychotherapist, I use art daily to help raise awareness and challenge perceptions. Art therapy at its best is a powerful tool to heal, inspire, provoke, challenge and offer hope.

Walls can be powerful symbols of barriers, which can seem impossible to scale or overcome.  They can represent both physical and mental obstacles. The social stigma experienced by people with mental health issues can often feel like a brick wall, which is impenetrable and allows no escape from their struggle. Prejudicial attitudes, bullying, stereotyping and discriminating behaviour keep people with mental health issues locked in their own self-defeating walls of fear, shame and isolation.

This metaphor of a wall representing the stigma of mental illness is often the elephant in the room in many settings. It seemed appropriate to create an art installation involving as many of our client and staff voices as possible. Youth and staff were provided paper bricks and asked to consider and illustrate how the stigma around mental illness makes them feel, or what they would do to break down barriers.

The demand for bricks continued to increase as more and more youth and staff wanted to express themselves. Many people used their brick to share their lived experience of stigma.

One youth wrote, “if you only see my mental health, then you can’t see the real me.” Another wrote, “I won’t judge, stigma keeps people trapped.”

Although many of the bricks on our wall are not uplifting or comfortable to read, they speak the truth about this very real obstacle that people face when dealing with mental health issues. The community of voices, which created the 2018 Children’s Mental Health Week Brick Wall, provides a solid foundation for Kinark to continue to chip away at the stigma associated with mental health. Brick by brick, this wall will be a powerful reminder of why we do the work we do, and the importance of breaking down the barriers to obtaining the help some children and youth need to reclaim their mental health.

Here’s how you can get involved and help raise awareness this week:

  • Wear a green ribbon, the symbol of positive mental health, or the colour green to show your support
  • Shine Green for Mental Health – More than 70 sites across the province are shining green to remind everyone about the importance of positive mental health. Post a photo of a building illuminated in green on social media and use #GETLOUD: Click here