The right tools to bear

Worry tent at Teddy Bears’ Pic­nic will pro­mote men­tal health

Winnipeg Free Press - - TANK - CAROL SAN­DERS carol.san­ders@freep­

NEW tent will open this year at the Teddy Bears’ Pic­nic to treat the kind of boo­boos you can’t al­ways see.

For the first time, psy­chol­o­gists will be camped out at the an­nual Assini­boine Park event for chil­dren and fam­i­lies to help stuffed an­i­mals and their own­ers ad­dress men­tal-health is­sues such as anx­i­ety.

The Worry Bear tent will fo­cus on men­tal health.

“This is a very pos­i­tive and fun-filled event, but the rea­sons for this are quite se­ri­ous,” clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Dr. Rehman Ab­dul­rehman said.

“Seventy per cent of adult prob­lems started dur­ing child­hood and the most com­mon are anx­i­ety dis­or­ders.”

At first, or­ga­niz­ers balked at the name of the Worry Bear tent for the May 28 pic­nic.

“Some peo­ple were wor­ried about the use of the (term),” Ab­dul­rehman said. They said “worry” was too neg­a­tive of a word and sug­gested “com­pas­sion bear” in­stead, he said.

“We felt very strongly that we need to use that word to nor­mal­ize the ex­pe­ri­ence of anx­i­ety and to use the ap­pro­pri­ate lan­guage,” Ab­dul­rehman said.

Anx­i­ety dis­or­ders can cause ex­ces­sive wor­ry­ing or phys­i­cal symp­toms of panic that in­ter­fere with day-to-day liv­ing,

AAb­dul­rehman said.

In chil­dren, it can be harder to iden­tify, he said. “They can’t al­ways ar­tic­u­late worries, so it shows up be­haviourally.”

School avoid­ance might be be­cause of anx­i­ety, he said.

Chil­dren may say they feel sick and de­scribe phys­i­cal symp­toms, he said, such as, “my stom­ach hurts,” or “my head hurts.”

The Worry Bear tent will have small group pre­sen­ta­tions for chil­dren and par­ents who can learn how worry works, in­clud­ing “how it hap­pens and easy ways to con­trol it,” Ab­dul­rehman said.

They’ll talk about how to face fears and chal­lenge neg­a­tive thoughts.

“We give them tools for how to cope with panic,” Ab­dul­rehman ex­plained.

“It’s child-friendly. Chil­dren tend to project dif­fi­cul­ties onto their toys. We teach chil­dren ways to help their toys not feel as anx­ious or wor­ried.

“Chil­dren in­ter­nal­ize those strate­gies and it gives par­ents the tools to man­age dif­fi­cul­ties — they can watch and learn. That’s go­ing to be a crit­i­cal piece, with the fam­i­lies.”

The Worry Bear tent’s team is made up of psy­chol­o­gists from Clinic Psy­chol­ogy Man­i­toba and its mem­bers will be wear­ing T-shirts with “Worry Doc” on them, said Ab­dul­rehman, the clinic’s direc­tor and as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in the depart­ment of clin­i­cal health psy­chol­ogy at the Max Rady Col­lege of Medicine.

“We of­ten ex­pect chil­dren to ar­tic­u­late re­ally com­plex symp­toms and feel­ings, but they don’t al­ways have the lan­guage skills to do that early on,” he said.

The idea is to teach them how to ar­tic­u­late those feel­ings and some tech­niques for deal­ing with them.

“We all know what to do when we get a cold — we don’t run to the doc­tor. We don’t know what to do if we have a panic at­tack or feel very anx­ious,” Ab­dul­rehman said.

“Anx­i­ety is the com­mon cold of men­tal health dis­or­ders and we still don’t know what to do when it comes to that,” he added.

Panic at­tacks hap­pen when the body kicks into fight or flight mode, a re­sponse that’s very nor­mal but may oc­cur at the wrong time.

Teach­ing chil­dren how to do “belly breath­ing” helps phys­i­cally re­duce their anx­i­ety.

Colour­ing sheets are an­other tool the Worry Bear tent will use to help kids iden­tify when they feel anx­i­ety.

The psy­chol­o­gist cre­ated the char­ac­ter “whatif,” a green cloud that’s a phys­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of worry and anx­i­ety that hangs over their head when­ever they’re feel­ing anx­ious.

“We are go­ing to be us­ing this to al­low chil­dren to iden­tify a prob­lem, to make it less as­so­ci­ated with them­selves and also to help both par­ents and chil­dren have a tar­get,” Ab­dul­rehman said.

“The goal is to shrink the whatif to a smaller size. The more they en­gage in the healthy strate­gies of chal­leng­ing worries, fac­ing our fears and belly breath­ing, the smaller and less in­ter­fer­ing the whatif be­comes.”

The Worry Bear tent is a new means of pro­vid­ing men­tal in­for­ma­tion to the public, Ab­dul­rehman said.

“A lot of peo­ple don’t have ac­cess to a men­tal-health prac­ti­tioner or psy­chol­o­gist. It used to be stigma was the bar­rier. Now it’s ac­cess,” he said.

Public ser­vices are lim­ited, which means “it takes a long time to get in,” Ab­dul­rehman said.

Cost and lack of in­surance cov­er­age can prevent ac­cess to pri­vate ser­vices for psy­chol­o­gists.

“Ev­ery year men­tal health prob­lems cost the econ­omy $50 bil­lion,” the clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist said.

“They talk about talk ther­apy be­ing ex­pen­sive, but they’re not look­ing at the im­pact it’s hav­ing on so­ci­ety. Seventy per cent of adults had dif­fi­cul­ties start dur­ing child­hood and their teen years,” Ab­dul­rehman said.

Like any ill­ness, the sooner it’s treated, the bet­ter, he said.

“You can prevent those pat­terns from de­vel­op­ing into on­go­ing dif­fi­culty,” he said.

Why worry?

An es­ti­mated 10 to 20 per cent of Cana­dian youth are af­fected by a men­tal ill­ness or dis­or­der.

70 per cent of men­tal-health prob­lems have their on­set dur­ing child­hood or ado­les­cence.

Nearly five per cent of male youth and 12 per cent of fe­male youth age 12 to 19 have ex­pe­ri­enced a ma­jor de­pres­sive episode.

Rates of ER vis­its and in-pa­tient hos­pi­tal­iza­tions for men­tal dis­or­ders among chil­dren and youth are up 45 per cent and 37 per cent, re­spec­tively, from 2006–07 to 2013–14.

The great­est in­creases in rates of hos­pi­tal ser­vice use are among youth 10 to 17 years old, those with mood and anx­i­ety dis­or­ders and those liv­ing in ur­ban ar­eas.

Use of psy­chotropic med­i­ca­tions is com­mon — one in 12 youth were dis­pensed a mood/ anx­i­ety or an­tipsy­chotic med­i­ca­tion in 2013–14 — and has in­creased over time.

An es­ti­mated 3.2 mil­lion Cana­di­ans be­tween the ages of 12 and 19 risk de­vel­op­ing de­pres­sion.

Once de­pres­sion is rec­og­nized, help can make a dif­fer­ence for 80 per cent of peo­ple, al­low­ing them to get back to their reg­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties.

Canada’s youth sui­cide rate is the third high­est in the in­dus­tri­al­ized world.

Sui­cide is among the lead­ing causes of death in Cana­di­ans age 15 to 24, sec­ond only to ac­ci­dents; 4,000 peo­ple die each year by sui­cide.

First Na­tions youth die by sui­cide about five to six times more of­ten than non-indige­nous youth. Sui­cide rates for Inuit youth are among the high­est in the world, at 11 times the na­tional av­er­age.

Sur­passed only by in­juries, men­tal dis­or­ders in youth are ranked as the sec­ond-high­est hos­pi­tal care ex­pen­di­ture in Canada.

An es­ti­mated 75 per cent of chil­dren with men­tal dis­or­ders do not ac­cess spe­cial­ized treat­ment ser­vices.


A group of clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gists headed up by Dr. Rehman Ab­dul­rehman have set up a ‘Worry Bear’ tent at the Teddy Bear’s Pic­nic. Kids will be able to get care for their teddy bears.


Worry Bear team: Tif­fany Lip­pens (from left), Lyla Levy and Rehman Ab­dul­rehman.


The crowd at last year’s Teddy Bears’ Pic­nic.

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