Mental Health Week – Donations Matched

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The is monthly series features the latest updates and news from Covenant House Vancouver. Miss604 is proud to be their Official Blog Partner. This month’s post has been written by Jason Bosher of Covenant House Vancouver.

Mental Health Week Donations Matched Covenant House Vancouver

Healing Through Compassion

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Week (May 6th and May 12th) is healing through compassion. But what does that mean?

Youth who find their way to Covenant House Vancouver may have experienced events such as trauma, abuse, substance use, and in some cases parentification. Whatever the situation, compassion starts with meeting basic needs, such as food, shelter, and clothing — elements that help youth feel safe.

Compassion is also about recognizing that even though a youth may be in need of mental health support, they may not be ready for such support. Compassion is about meeting a youth where they are at and helping them feel safe enough to build trust with the team at Covenant House, who are all there to support them.

What Is Parentification?

According to WebMD, “Parentification is often referred to as growing up too fast. Typically, it occurs when a child takes on parental responsibility for their siblings or even their parents, taking care of a sibling or parent physically, mentally, or emotionally. This can damage a child’s mental well-being and lead to long-term mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.”

Caitlin, Clinical Counsellor at Covenant House Vancouver, mentioned some of the common experiences and traits that parentified youth exhibit:

  • Whether in a romantic relationship or a friendship, the youth takes on a caregiver role
  • Youth tend to take care of others, rather than themselves
  • They often a lack of self-care behaviours, which can lead to feelings of burnout or feeling disconnected from their bodies
  • They often feel lonely and misunderstood because they have never developed peer-to-peer relationships
  • Their self-worth gets tied to more adult expectations, like being able to work and make money
  • Because of all of the above factors, youth may struggle with connecting to others, they have problems with boundaries, and they struggle with communication — communicating with themselves, and communicating with others, and they may find it challenging to find joy and pleasure in life

Last year, we shared a story with you about Dylan, a youth at Covenant House, who experienced parentification, as a child. Through counselling, that included art therapy, Dylan wes able to find himself and advocate for his needs. You will find Dylan’s story here, if you’d like to learn more.

Finding your Inner Child

Louisa, Manager of Social Work and Clinical Supports at Covenant House had this to say about youth who have experienced parentification, “When we talk about mental health, a lot of the youth who have experienced this early childhood responsibility will come across as they have everything together, and they present very well. It’s almost like working peer to peer, but there’s a real lack of focusing on self.”

Often, when youth arrive at Covenant House, they are in fight or flight mode. Youth cannot move forward in fight or flight mode, so the first step is for the team at Covenant House to build trust and show youth that they are in a safe space. Covenant House uses a trauma-informed approach in their holistic approach to supporting youth.

Art therapy  is a holistic, trauma-informed tool that can be a useful to help youth express themselves, non-verbally, in a way that can externalize the trauma through the creation of art. The counsellors often have tea and snacks, and possibly some form of aromatherapy, to help make the space feel safe and inviting.

Covenant House Vancouver Art Therapy Room
Covenant House Art Therapy Room – Photo submitted

Caitlin expressed the importance that play can have in working with parentified youth: “Play can look differently for everyone and reconnecting with play and curiosity that is so often either locked up or tied up in inner child stuff is super important to trauma processing because it requires curiosity to try to do things differently or to notice what is already different. It helps youth separate the present self from the younger part so that they have a little bit of distance to look back and see what is happening now versus what is happening in the past.”

During the group art therapy sessions, Caitlin notices that not only is there compassion from staff, but also between the youth: “When I am facilitating the groups, I am also there offering compassion and care. A lot of what I’m doing is creating a space for the youth to do that for each other. And I think that it is really empowering for them to have a space that is mainly about their interactions with each other and not so much about the interactions that they have with staff. Some of them have shared experiences and some of them don’t, but there seems to be a lot of compassionate care that goes between them. The peer interactions are also a great way for youth to practise  boundary setting, communication, and conflict resolution.”

Caitlin would like to grow the art therapy side of counselling to include more ways that youth can engage in meaningful play. On her wish list are STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and fidget toys, paper making, working with clay (it requires a lot of tension and release in the body, so it goes really well with trauma processing), sewing, and sand tray therapy.

As part of Covenant House Vancouver’s holistic approach to supporting youth, these elements can make a big difference in the lives of vulnerable youth.

Donations Matched

Starting May 13th, thanks to Westland Insurance, any donation to Covenant House Vancouver will be doubled, up to $50,000! That means any donation you make before June 30th will have double the impact. Help make a difference in the lives of youth in the community. Donate today!

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