Program tackles child depression, anxiety

The Family Resource Centre is hosting a free family skills workshop Wednesday evening to address how to help children cope with anxiety and depression.

The workshop, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Family Resource Centre, will be the first time the center has held a session that focuses specifically on childhood anxiety and depression.

Family Resource Centre program coordinator Miriam Foster said the center decided to put on the program because it has been seeing an increase in individuals showing up with depression, anxiety, or at risk of suicide.

“We like to focus on prevention, and we wanted to help parents with their children and see if they can equip them from the time they are little with different tools so when they’re older, they’re not struggling as much as some of the adults coming through our door,” Ms. Foster said. “The truth is, most of the adults coming through our door have been dealing with this since childhood.”

According to the U.S. National Alliance on Mental Health, 50 percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the average delay between the onset of symptoms of a mental illness and intervention to treat that illness is eight to 10 years.

Ms. Foster said many issues that come up later in a person’s life, such as chemical dependencies and risky behavior, can be prevented with early intervention in childhood since those types of behaviors are often ways of coping with untreated mental illness.

At the workshop, facilitators will discuss with adults how to recognize symptoms of anxiety and depression, and the “do’s and don’ts” of helping individuals struggling with those illnesses. In another room, children will work on different mindfulness activities.

The workshop will also be an opportunity for parents to discuss when professional treatment may be needed. While the phrase “professional treatment” can sound scary, Ms. Foster said, it really means seeking help from an expert who has a wealth of knowledge that can help an individual feel more at ease.

“They are coming from an objective place,” Ms. Foster said. “They’re there to support you and the child, making sure the child is safe, and so I think that professional treatment should be something that is comforting.”

Out the 4,000 people in the Cayman Islands who received some form of mental health-related services in 2013, approximately 360 of those were age 17 or younger, according to a report released by the Cayman Islands Mental Health Commission. However, many studies suggest that as many as one out of five children experience a mental disorder in a given year, meaning that there could be many more children in the Cayman Islands struggling with mental illness than the number of those who are currently receiving treatment.

Ms. Foster said there is still a stigma associated with mental health, which can keep individuals from discussing it or seeking out help.

“It’s important to understand that everyone’s different, everyone’s chemical makeup is different, as well,” Ms. Foster said.

She said the tools offered in the workshop will be useful to everyone, whatever degree to which their children – or themselves – are struggling with anxiety and depression, because the focus is on expressing emotions and dealing with those emotions in a healthy way.

“A lot of times, we don’t talk about those things. We don’t go deep, we don’t get too touchy-feely,” Ms. Foster said.

“A lot of the work we do at the FRC is to counter that … the fact is, you need to engage with your emotions, because they are affecting you whether you admit it or not. The more you learn to cope with them in a healthy way, the more successful you’ll be in life.”

Families and community members interested in attending can contact the Family Resource Centre at 949-0006. Adults and children are welcome to attend, and a light dinner will be served.