Bridging The GapPublished on December 9, 2020

Photo by: Mark Holleron

Over the past number of years, conversations about mental health have grown by leaps and bounds. But a huge amount of work remains to be done, especially when it comes to children and youth.

According to Children’s Mental Health Ontario, one in five kids will experience mental health issues, but five out of six of them will not receive the support they need. And, frighteningly, Canada’s youth suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world.

“Generally, the public knows that there are a lot of mental health needs that are not being met by the system,” says Hilary Allen, who volunteered to manage a project called Supporting Parents of Suicidal Youth for the charity Parents’ Lifeline of Eastern Ontario (PLEO).

PLEO provides family peer support for parents with a child facing mental health challenges. With their help, Hilary convened a series of focus groups to determine the top areas of concern for parents with children in crisis, and then created a series of practical, hopeful videos and messages featuring clinicians, suicide prevention experts, parents and youth.

“If your child is able to get care, the medication prescribed can take up to six weeks to work, and in the meantime there is no firm guidance for parents to notice if things aren’t going ok,” explains Hilary.

“Additionally, if your child is suicidal and admitted to hospital it’s usually just for a stabilization period and then they are sent home,” she continues. “You’re told to keep an eye on your child while you wait for an appointment that may be weeks away, but you have no formal training, no real support, and a huge emotional investment in keeping your child alive.”

The videos—which feature introductory remarks from famed actor and mental health advocate Mary Walsh—are meant to give parents comfort, answers and valuable information from others who have first-hand knowledge of their circumstances and fears. Accompanying info sheets offer brief tips to help parents manage through a period of overwhelming vulnerability and distress.

Hilary knows that the videos are only part of the solution, but she also knows they make a difference.

“This initiative is meeting a need that nothing else is meeting right now,” she concludes. “It’s just trying to build a bridge for families who are struggling to keep their kids alive.”

If you or someone you love needs information or support from PLEO, please call the parents’ helpline at 613-321-3211 or visit

Catherine Clark

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