11/22/2012 05:28 EST | Updated 01/22/2013 05:12 EST

Kids Need Help With Mental Health Too

Kim Bongiorno

"We hold few things in life more dear than our children. Our lives are consumed with efforts to make a good home and provide our children with every opportunity in life. As a society, we value our investments in children and youth."

This passage is from Connecting the Dots, a report issued by New Brunswick's Ombudsman and Child and Youth Advocate when Bernard Richard held these posts. This report highlighted the pressing need for more awareness and services to help youth in this province afflicted with mental health issues.

Parents would agree, the well-being of our children is crucial. That is why it is important to raise awareness about mental health issues affecting youth, to remove the stigma attached, to create a safe space in schools, so that treatment can be sought. Also, directly related to this, improved services for mental health issues facing children and youth is essential.

This is the aim of Dots NB, which has grown rapidly to become a grassroots movement of concerned parents, youth, and citizens. Two years ago, 1,200 people in Fredericton physically "connected the dots" -- standing fingertip-to-fingertip from the Mental Health Centre to the Legislature in support of mental health awareness and services for children and youth. Leading the crowd was the S.M.Y.L.E. Youth Group from Saint Mary's First Nation and students at George Street Middle School known as the Dot Squad.

Dots NB was founded after this demonstration, to continue the work.

This year, on December 7, Dots NB will be organizing the Dots for Kids Day Ring a Bell campaign to raise awareness by having community members ring church bells across the province in unison with over 20,000 middle school students, who will also be ringing bells. Bell Aliant has been a crucial partner in moving this initiative forward. Last year, church bells rang in Fredericton, this year they will ring across New Brunswick.

What is the significance of ringing church bells? Before the era of mass communications, church bells were important in gathering communities together and this is the aim of the campaign -- bring people together to raise awareness about this pressing issue, so that those afflicted do not have to suffer alone in silence, so they are not afraid to seek treatment because of stigma, and so policy-makers in our province can move forward to provide proper services and treatment for kids afflicted with mental health issues.

Participating churches will be recognized on the Dots NB website with a giant map of caring churches. If a church does not have a traditional steeple bell, a speaker system can be used or hand bells be rung on the front steps. Organizations representing other faith groups are encouraged to participate as well.

In addition to this initiative, another major initiative of Dots NB is education about mental health issues, something identified as a priority in the Connecting the Dots report. Dots NB is presently working with the Department of Education, establishing a lesson plan for middle-school students focussed on mental health, something that represents the first time students in New Brunswick will be learning about mental health issues at the grade school level.

This is crucial as over 50 per cent of mental health illnesses show up by the age of 13 and only one-in-five receive any treatment at all. Early intervention and prevention -- including education -- are key in this regard.

Our children are important to us, they represent our future. That is why education and raising awareness about mental health issues is crucial. In the last few years, a great grassroots movement has grown through Dots NB. You can help by participating in the ring a bell campaign -- by encouraging churches and other faith groups to participate. For more information or to register a church, please contact Dots NB by email at or call 1-506-206-1662.