HELPING KIDS COPE WITH COVID ONLY PHONE CALL AWAY

Mark Clairmont | MuskokaTODAY.com

MUSKOKA — Help is out there for kids coping with COVID.

With Children’s Mental Health Week underway, schools closed and the province still under a stay-at-home order, it’s never been more important to talk about the mental health and wellbeing of children.

“Because things are not OK,” says Jocelyn Wing, manager of services for Child &Youth Mental Health Programs at Simcoe Muskoka Family Connexions (SMFC).

“We are very concerned for kids and teens in Muskoka and know that some families are really struggling,” she said in a release yesterday.

“Our child and youth mental health workers have continued to provide essential supports throughout the pandemic.

“But we have found that many people aren’t aware of the programs we offer, and we want families to know they can reach out to us.”

She said the pandemic means children and youth have reduced structure and face several school closures, virtual learning challenges and isolation from their peers.

That’s hurting their mental health, says Wing.

For some kids the stress and anxiety has progressed into more serious mental health challenges.

Wing cites a recent SickKids survey that revealed about 70 per cent of children and youth in Ontario reported a worsening of their mental health since the start of the pandemic. Across the province, more children and youth are in need of mental health supports, and the severity of mental illness is worsening, she says.

“This has been a very difficult year and when it comes to kids’ mental health, really, everything is not okay,” says SMFC executive director Geraldine Dooley-Phillips.

“If you are a parent or caregiver in Muskoka and you’re concerned about changes in your child’s behaviour, please reach out. We are here to help.”

During COVID-19, children and youth may need to talk more about how they’re feeling and coping with the global pandemic.

Families can access SMFC’s child and family counselling and therapy services for short-term or long-term therapy, intensive mental health treatment services — in home and community support, and telepsychiatry consultation through remote access to a child and youth psychiatrist.

For those experiencing more acute concerns, the agency provides crisis services through the 24-7 child and youth mental health crisis line where trained call-takers listen and connect people to the appropriate help.

Local crisis clinicians are also available to provide support by phone or in-person, depending on the location and time of the call.

Wing and Dooley-Phillips say Family Connexions is proud of the work they are doing, but they are also dealing with the pressures of limited resources and wait-lists like other providers in the province.

They say that in addition to delivering services, and trying to reach more families, SMFC is sounding the alarm to provincial officials. As a member of Children’s Mental Health Ontario, together they are calling for the Ontario government to urgently invest in child and youth mental health.

For children’s mental health week, SMFC is urging everyone to share the message and sign the petition to let our provincial government know that everything is #NotOK. https://www.change.org/p/government-of-ontario-everything-is-not-ok

SMFC’s call-in counselling clinics are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

To access services and speak with mental health professionals including booking the no-fee, confidential therapy services for children and youth 0-18 and their families, please call M-F 8:30-4:30 at 705-645-4426 ext. 6270.

In a child and youth mental health crisis in Muskoka, you can call the child and youth mental health crisis line 24/7 at 1-844-287-9072.

For more information, see the website at www.familyconnexions.ca.

Sitting down and spending more time with children to talk about what COVID is and how to live with it is an easy first step to help kids deal with lockdowns and worries about vaccines.

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