Mixing summer camp fun with mental health
Tuesday, Jan 24, 2017 01:30 pm
Every child dreams of going to summer camp, but for those with mental health issues, a typical camp can be out of reach.
This summer, the local child and adolescent mental health clinic is hoping to change that. Kids with disorders or mental wellness concerns, such as ADHD, depression, and anxiety, will have a specialized camp to partake in the summer fun, while catering to their needs.
“When we started the child and adolescent mental health clinic last June, we saw kids on a weekly basis. By the end of July/start of August, we saw how the kids we just connected with were already having worsening symptoms,” explained Alena Thompson, mental health navigator.
The main reason for this, Thompson said, was the lack of structure. Kids were getting out of their routine, and spending too much time sitting around with very little to do.
“We actually had a couple of our kids themselves tell us that they were just bored. Then they think too much about what’s going on, and that makes it worse.”
When speaking with parents about enrolling the kids in activities outside the home, Thompson quickly learned traditional summer camp wasn’t always an option.
“They talked about how if their kid had anxiety that would keep them from being able to go, because they couldn’t drop everything to go pick her up if she had a panic attack. Or, the camp can’t support the fact that my child may have a panic attack or have behaviours with their ADHD that are difficult to manage.”
That’s what sparked the idea for a specialized camp. Thanks to a $25,000 community initiatives grant from Imperial Oil Cold Lake, they are able to put that plan into action.
This summer, they will be holding a five to six week pilot program, to see how the camp is received. Running three days per week, there will be a small ratio of campers to counselors to allow for more one-on-one time.
“We’re going to be looking at our clients in the clinic as potential campers, because we have an idea of what their needs are and what treatment activities might be beneficial for them,” said Thompson.
Since starting last spring, the child and adolescent mental health clinic has had 80 referrals, and are actively seeing around 48 children. They have already had over 24 successful discharges from the clinic, which means the client has been set up with other resources in the community, their symptoms have been stabilized, and they, along with their family, feel confident they can move forward.
To help run the new summer camp, a coordinator will be employed to get the programming in place and oversee the camp. Leading the day-to-day camp activities will be hired counselors who are trained to work with children, such as educational assistants.
The activities at camp will depend on the kids in each group, and what their specific needs are. While they want to give the kids a fun summer camp experience, Thompson noted their goal is also to continue teaching them valuable skills and lessons.
“The kids in our community need something that's specific to their needs, specific to their disorder or mental wellness... A camp that still has activities, but can give them those life and self-care skills. Still learning to live life with a disorder, but can have some fun. Every kid wants to go out and have fun and make friends and enjoy their time off school.”
Though typically thought of as something for younger children, the hope is to also make it appealing to teenagers.
“We're looking at event days to make teenagers want to come. Something that exposes them to maybe a career path or personal interest, involving them in the community just to broaden their interests and exposures as we develop them as young adults.”
While originally planning to hold the camp at the Bonnyville Boys and Girls Club, a conflict in summer programming means their still searching for an ideal location. Two local schools have offered their facilities, but Thompson explained it's just a matter of working out the issue of insurance and liability. They will also be exploring other centrally-located facilities, that allow them the potential for field trips and access to outdoor play areas.
“It's definitely a work in progress. We still have some big things that need to be cleared up before it's a go, but I hope it's successful and it's going to be fun.”
If the summer camp is well-received this year, Thompson said they’d like to see it become an annual occurrence with expanded programming.