Kim’s daughter was 11 years old when she first started missing school due to depression.

Their family doctor referred them to a mental health program, but they were faced with a year-long wait time for an appointment. Kim’s daughter didn’t have a year to wait. Without treatment, her condition worsened and before her twelfth birthday she was in the emergency room following a suicide attempt.

“Because of a lack of early intervention,” says Kim, “we had to rely on the most intensive service, which is not good for the child, not good for the family, not good for the taxpayer.” Kim’s daughter spent two weeks in an inpatient unit.

“From the government’s perspective, never mind the family perspective, that’s not what you want to have happen. Emergency rooms and inpatient units are expensive and not the right place for kids.”

“Young women can’t go a day in their lives without being directly or indirectly told that their bodies are unacceptable."

A too common story

Far too many families have lived similar stories. Nearly one in ten Canadian students seriously considers suicide in any given year, and young women are more likely than their male peers to attempt suicide. Mood disorders and anxiety disorders affect female Canadians in roughly twice the number they do male Canadians.

And when it comes to eating disorders, young women account for 80 percent of sufferers.

“Young women can’t go a day in their lives without being directly or indirectly told that their bodies are unacceptable,” says Marbella Carlos of the National Eating Disorder Information Centre. And a recent report presented to Parliament found that eating disorders, particularly anorexia, have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

Despite that, Marbella says, there is little public awareness of the problem. “Almost a million Canadians suffer from eating disorders but, as a culture, we still pretend they don’t exist.”

The most important message: “You are not alone”

The Canadian health system is growing better at helping women and girls with mental health issues, but the most important thing is always community. “Mental illness and addiction are isolating diseases,” says Katie Robinette, Executive Director at Healthy Minds Canada.

“People hide, they shut down.” But, when young women are introduced to a strong support network of their peers, when they learn that they are not alone, their prospects for recovery dramatically improve.

Kim’s daughter eventually received a diagnosis, a treatment plan, and became involved in a community-based support network. All of this allowed her to manage her mental health and return to being, in her mother’s words, “a pretty normal kid.”

If we want all women and girls to have this sort of positive outcome, we must keep the conversation on mental health alive; help bring it out of the shadows.