It’s estimated by the Mental Health Commission of Canada that 1.2 million children and youth in Canada are affected by mental illness, but less than 20 per cent will receive the appropriate treatment.

But I don’t need the numbers to know about the crisis facing our youth when it comes to mental-health issues. I’ve been living with the reality for almost two years since my teenage son was hit with crippling depression. As his parent, it’s been hard and exhausting, yet it pales in comparison to what he suffers every day.

Due to the state of mental-health services in Ontario, my son has to wait a year before he sees a psychiatrist. So why not pay out of pocket? Unfortunately, just like the inability to pay your way to the top to see a family practitioner, it isn’t possible to do so to see a psychiatrist.

Read: Editorial: Deck the halls with mental-health support

While I’ve looked into out-of-pocket residence programs for mental health, it seems these are only available for adults and not for youth. The youth programs are funded by the government, and the one my son was in pulled his bed at the in-treatment residence last minute for reasons we still don’t understand.

While all of this is going on, I started a new job. At first, I didn’t take the position because I was scared about leaving my son at home alone. I’ve been freelancing for 12 years so I’ve been at home with him every day. But, honestly, that was taking a toll on my own mental health. So I decided a few months later that it was time. And here I am.

Read: EY Canada raises mental-health benefits to $5,000 for all staff

And I couldn’t have asked for a better employer. The way the company has embraced my need for flexibility regarding my son’s care has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s a benchmark other employers should follow. I can work from home a couple of times a week and have an open space, without judgment, to talk about what’s going on. That’s always a fear, still, when discussing mental-health issues.

“Employer support can’t be underestimated for employees struggling to identify, address and support a child or family member experiencing mental-health issues,” says Sara Marchese, clinical director at Morneau Shepell Ltd. “Caregivers and parents attempting to better understand and manage the mental health and/or developmental issues the children in their care are facing can experience a myriad of issues, some visible to the employer and many not quite so transparent.”

It means a lot when an employer takes the time to observe changes in an employee’s behaviour and initiates a conversation to better understand how to assist them, adds Marchese.

When I went for lunch recently with my publisher, I was a bit anxious because inevitably you’ll talk about yourself and your children, if you have them. I dreaded bringing the conservation down by talking about something so heavy. To my absolute relief, the space was open, supportive and understanding.

Read: 85% of Canadians agree mental-health services are underfunded: survey

As an employee, I can’t stress enough the importance of working for an employer that enables me to manage my son’s mental-health issues while working full time. It allows me to do what I want and what I need to do while being a mom — a single mom at that. Mental-health issues don’t often disappear after a few months, so I may be on this road with my son for a while, and it gives me some comfort knowing I can work while managing this with him.

“Taking a personal interest in employees, without getting personally involved, can be a balancing act, but a worthwhile one,” says Marchese. “Employees who feel supported during challenging times are more engaged and more trusting of their employers and this can make all the difference in future retention and productivity and overall team morale.”

Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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