Jack and Margaret Lee lost their 18-year old daughter, Janice, in December 2006. Janice struggled throughout her teenage years with depression, anxiety, panic attacks and suicidal thoughts. Jack and Margaret were unaware of the severity of the mental condition that had consumed their daughter believing they were dealing with “normal” adolescent teenage hormones, moods and attitudes.
Over a six year period, the experience revealed the lack of knowledge from family doctors or schools, and it became apparent that not only was there insufficient awareness of adolescent mental health issues, but also that the medical system is extremely under-resourced when it comes to hospitalization, psychiatric help, counselling and/or mentoring. As an entrepreneur and highly successful businessman, Jack Lee had the vision, expertise and drive to approach this most serious problem. To that end, Blue Wave Foundation was formed in 2007 and dedicated to address the importance of early intervention and education of youth, their families and society about mental health issues. In 2013 the Foundation was gifted to the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division (CMHA), where it continues in the form of their Blue Wave Youth Mental Health program.
Both Jack and Margaret Lee hope to create a society where we all feel comfortable to discuss personal feelings about mental health with family and friends, and where we all share a duty to support one another in this respect.
Janice Megan Lee was born in Australia on February 5, 1988. She was part of a close-knit, fun-loving, stable family with one brother three years her senior.
Janice was a bundle of energy and an over-achiever from the start. She arrived with her family in Canada when aged 7 years and excelled in school, sports (hockey especially, her 10-year passion), and had a large group of friends from her areas of activity. Janice had a great sense of humour and was often “the joker – the life of the party”.
Then things changed! At around 12 years of age, Janice’s personality gradually took a down-turn with what her parents now realize was the revealing of mental health issues. Over the next 6 years the outgoing, boisterous young girl started to become depressed, moody, distant from everyone and, what seemed to her parents, somewhat rebellious.
Janice’s parents were unaware of the increasing depths of her mental health issues, assuming they were dealing with normal teenage moods and attitudes, so common amongst youth during those formative years.
In spite of some warning signals of suicidal thoughts around grades 8 and 9, expressed on MSN by Janice to friends who subsequently told a teacher, in one instance, and their parent, in the other instance – neither the family doctor nor the school counsellors were able to diagnose the signs of mental health issues. No “red flags” of urgent action were presented to Janice’s parents.
At age 16 – just a couple of weeks prior to her 17th birthday, Janice attempted to take her own life. Fearing for her safety, her parents had Janice admitted to the local hospital psychiatric ward. Unfortunately, there were no beds available in the adolescent ward so Janice had to be admitted to the adult ward for the first week – an extreme ordeal for a teenager whose mind was already in the depths of darkness and despair of depression. When admitted, she was diagnosed with chronic depression but she was administered no medication.
After that first week, a bed became available in the adolescent psychiatric unit of the hospital where Janice spent the next 4 weeks and where she had her 17th birthday. Upon release, Janice came back home and continued her high school education, barely managing to graduate from grade 12. Her ability to focus, due to her mental health issues, was failing fast. She was supposed to see a local family services counsellor once a week for ongoing support, but dropped out of that after 2 visits despite parental encouragement to continue.
Canadian adolescents, like teens throughout the world, are at high risk for mental illness. Research has shown that, one out of five 4 to 16 year-olds experiences some type of psychiatric disorder.
Youth represent the only age group where the mortality rate continues to increase. Combined, the top three causes of death – accidents, suicide and homicide – account for 75% of adolescent deaths.
Professional mental health care resources reach no more than 1 of every 6 children and adolescents in Canada. It is important to better understand what is going on with our youth, why they are at risk, and how we can try to better address the needs of adolescents with psychiatric disorders.
The Fight Against Mental Health Stigma
“Stigma is a major barrier preventing people from seeking help. Many people living with a mental illness say the stigma they face is often worse than the illness itself.”
Prevention and Early Intervention
Early diagnosis and optimal care in the years immediately preceding or following a diagnosis represent the critical period in which to save lives and restore future life pathways.
Prevention and early intervention techniques involves reducing risk factors or stressors and creating supports to prevent the initial onset of mental illness and promotes a positive well bring for at risk individuals so that they can function well when faced with challenging and stressful events. Early intervention addresses mental health in its early stages of manifestation, is relatively of low intensity and short duration so as to avoid the need for extensive mental health services or to prevent mental illness from getting worse.