Published on May 5th, 2017 | from CAMH

#GetLoud for children’s mental health, through quiet reflection

By Dr. Corine Carlisle, Staff Psychiatrist in the Child, Youth and Emerging adult program at CAMH

It is Mental Health Week and, yes, as the week’s mantra goes, do #GETLOUD!

We need to continue to reduce the stigma of mental illness, advocate for mental health care resources, promote and protect our own mental health and most importantly, ensure the mental health of the next generations.

I am right there with you getting loud! But I also find myself reflecting on ‘getting quiet’– not quiet about stigma or resources or mental health promotion, but pondering the role of ‘quiet’ in our lives and the lives of our children.

As a young child, I conducted what I now fondly recall as ‘the tea cup experiment’. One morning at the breakfast table, I looked at the handle of my teacup differently.  Instead of seeing the arching blue of the plastic handle, I became exquisitely aware of the space it framed. So I thought I would try holding the cup by that space… with the inevitable result of spilled tea on the table.  I don’t think my mother had any idea about ‘my teacup experiment’ as she hustled to mop up the spill, but for me, that moment is etched indelibly in my memory – the day that space and frame became separate and real.

So, what does the ‘the teacup experiment’ have to do with mental health week and our children? Well… a lot, I think.

Our children don’t seem to get much ‘space’ and ‘quiet’ any more. There is a constant barrage of phones, computers and televisions. There is the pressure of academics, extracurricular activities and social hyper-connectedness (e-connectedness).  Everything is SEEN and seen by everyone – photographed, videoed, Snapchatted, Facebooked, Instagrammed.  And scrutinized too – commented on, Tweeted, liked/disliked.  Our children live in a world of reporting on their lives instead of living in their lives!

Our children exist in a ‘space’ we cannot occupy. Our children’s mental lives and mental health are not things we can grab or hold; yet we are the very important ‘handles’ that circumscribe that important space for them.

When we are in face-to-face interactions with our kids, we are creating a space of ‘living without scrutinizing’ and ‘being without reporting’.  When we read stories to our children at bedtime, we give them a space of imagination and creativity. We also create a shared mentalization. The life of the story and characters exists in each of us separately, and yet it is a shared phenomenon. When we ‘build a reader’, we ‘build’ capacity for empathy, interpersonal effectiveness, emotional self-regulation and resilience.

This Mental Health Week I encourage us all to let go of the ‘handle’, embody the ‘space’ and tolerate any spilled tea.

#GETLOUD, but be cognizant of giving the gift of space and quiet to ourselves… and, most importantly, to our children.


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