Hi, my name is Mary Beth Hall, and I am the Kids in Control (KIC) and Teens in Control (TIC) manager at BCSS. The wealth of knowledge and stories of severe and persistent mental illnesses are vast on BCSS’ website, in my community, in our resources, and in the connections I have made thus far. I have learned so much in the past four months in my role, but I still have much to learn!

In my initial days, I naively thought all mental illnesses were on the same level as the obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) I struggle with, which often is controlled with simple things—diet, exercise and mindfulness. I am currently on a low-dose antidepressant and probably will be for the rest of my life. There were times I tried to come off them, but every time I was VERY uncomfortable. I think of the medication as just a bit of grease that keeps the wheels running in my mind. Without it, the ride is a little bumpy.

So far, I have learned that without a proper treatment plan that includes medication, a person with a severe and persistent mental illness can have their life totally flipped upside down. No amount of yoga and good vibes can cure psychosis.

Living with psychosis can be challenging. And when the person in psychosis is a parent with small children, managing it is that much harder. I can relate to it on some level. I have two small children, and I feel guilty on the days when my OCD interferes with being the parent I want to be.

I cannot imagine how some parents must feel when they have to leave their children to go into the hospital or they cannot take care of their kids as well as they would want to because of their sickness. Some of these kids in BCSS’ Kids in Control and Teens in Control programs care for their parents or younger siblings when their parents are ill.

This is what drives me. With BCSS’ Kids in Control and Teens in Control programs, we CAN help parents with severe and persistent mental illness by helping their children be the strongest version of themselves. Some of the things that these programs teach are mindfulness, maintaining boundaries, and self-care.

I believe that if we can equip healthy kids with the tools to help them reach out to adults for help and to educate them about the early signs of mental illnesses, we can lessen the blow that people face due to mental illnesses in the family. When we provide kids with a deep understanding and knowledge of severe and persistent mental illnesses, it reduces the fear they might feel when something unpredictable happens. The most important part is to teach kids to know themselves well and act with kindness and empathy when they do have to care for a parent with a mental illness.

Something that goes a long way is talking about mental illnesses the same way we talk about physical illnesses. I can talk from experience because in my own family, practising this has been beneficial in destigmatizing mental health issues. I now encourage my kids to talk freely about mental health. “What’s it FEEL like to have OCD, Momma?” my nine-year-old asked me one day. “Sometimes, the wheel in my mind gets stuck, so I have to take a moment to get it going again with deep breathing, reflection and taking care of myself,” I said. It is that simple!