A new summer camp lets children of parents living with mental illness just be kids
By Starr Cunningham
Since making the move from CTV Atlantic to the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia, I’ve had many poignant moments. The one that stands out the most happened rather unexpectedly following an evening presentation. I just finished speaking at From Recovery to Discovery, a mental-health peer support group, when two women approached me. They wanted to chat in private and I could tell it wasn’t going to be an easy conversation.
They started by thanking me for talking openly about mental health. Then, they asked if I knew of a place or program designed to help children who have parents living with mental illness. My answer was unfortunately no.
One of the women began to cry and told me a bit about her story. She talked about struggling with severe depression. She spoke of waking up in the morning and not being able to get out of bed for several days. She spoke of disappointing her children on a regular basis and worrying about the long-term effects her illness would have on her family. She told me she lived with a feeling of unrelenting guilt that stayed with her, even on good days when her depression was in control.
I listened, and left our conversation with a whole new perspective on the toll mental illness can take on a parent.
Her comments always stayed with me. I found myself thinking of her every few weeks and wondering how she was doing. Our exchange was so compelling that I completely forgot to ask for her contact information. I’ve been frustrated by my lapse ever since. If I thought to get her phone number or email address, I could connect with her right now to tell her all about Camp BELIEVE.
Camp BELIEVE is a unique overnight camp for children who have a parent living with mental illness. It’s designed to be a safe place where children can get away from the worries of the world and just focus on being kids. It’s a spot where young people can bond with their peers who understand what it’s like to hear Dad talking back to the voices in his head, or to watch Mom cry on those days when everyone else around her is happy. Simply put, it’s a place where children don’t have to pretend. They can talk openly about words that are a regular part of their daily life: psychosis, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, and depression.
Camp BELIEVE will launch this summer at Brigadoon Village in Nova Scotia’s beautiful Annapolis Valley. It’s open to children between the ages of eight and 17, and will run from July 24 to 29. Campers will experience true summertime fun while making new friends and learning healthy coping skills. They’ll spend time paddling on the water, painting in the arts hall, and singing around the bonfire. I can’t think of a better way to let kids be kids.
The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia is incredibly proud to make this camp possible. It’s a direct result of my conversation with that open and candid mom. While developing a call to action for our annual Compass Group Canada Festival of Trees, our team determined a family initiative would be best. Having visited Brigadoon Village earlier in the year, the idea of a summer camp for children who have parents living with mental illness was inevitable. Camp BELIEVE was born.
Now our focus is on spreading the word and connecting with children who might benefit from attending this summer. If you live with mental illness, or know someone who does, please consider this unique opportunity. Children as young as eight can attend, and campers aged 16 and 17 are welcome to join the Leaders in Training Program. You can find all the information you need by visiting our website at mentalhealthns.ca or Brigadoon’s website at brigadoonvillage.org. Every child who qualifies can take part. Our generous supporters at Festival of Trees made sure of that. Space is limited though, so please register soon if you have a child who would like to participate.
Camp BELIEVE will run concurrently with Camp Kedoopsie, a bereavement camp for children and youth who have lost a loved one. There will be two certified child-life specialists on site during the week to facilitate sessions. They will also be available at anytime throughout the week to provide emotional support to campers when needed.
Beyond the obvious advantages for the children who attend, I can’t help but think their parents will benefit as well. I imagine the joy of knowing your child is having fun, meeting new friends who have shared experiences and being cared for by a team of trained counsellors. Perhaps it would even alleviate some of that unrelenting guilt I first heard of many months ago.
Living with mental illness is difficult enough without the added stress of worrying about its impact on your children. I believe Camp BELIEVE has the ability to truly make a difference in the lives of children and their families. I hope you believe, too.
And, if by chance, my unidentified mother is reading this article please contact me. You are the true inspiration for Camp BELIEVE.