Airdrie mother Doreen Gilligan watched her children struggle for years with mental health issues. As a parent, there was frustration and confusion over trying to navigate a labyrinthine healthcare system. But there was also loneliness and isolation.  Her experiences led her to want to establish a safe place for other parents to discuss their struggles.  

“I thought it might be helpful to bring together other parents to know that they're not alone and to share their stories with each other; to learn from each other and to know where they could find resources that are helpful,” she said. 

Gilligan posted on social media about the potential of creating a group for parents and the response was overwhelming. 

“I was a little bit surprised. Within, I don't know a week, I have over 60 names of people that would like to join the group,” Gilligan said. “I think everybody is touched with mental health issues, whether it's for themselves or a loved one and we really need more resources and support for everybody.” 

Gilligan created a Facebook page and a group for parents who need a place to simply find refuge, but to also seek resources and help. From her own experience, she said that while resources may be available, they are not always easy to find. 

“I found that it wasn't easy just to find one place where they would tell you all the resources that are available to you and your children. I think it is also not only what resources are available,” she said. “But also, even if you go to emergency or the mental health wards in hospitals, it also depends on who's working when you're there and whether or not you get the help that you find helpful at the time.” 

Throughout the time that Gilligan’s children were dealing with mental health issues, friendships were frayed and broken.  

“It was very lonely to lose friendships during such a difficult time and also other friends that if they weren't going through the same thing, they just didn't understand what we needed, or what we were going through,” Gilligan said. “It was like this dark tunnel, just trying to figure out where can we go, what help can we get, and sometimes we'd find help, that was helpful. And other times we'd go to the professionals, and they weren't helpful at all.” 

Then there’s the issue of resources for loved ones who have mental health issues. In Gilligan's case, she felt utterly alone.

"We could reach out or we could ask doctors or we could get therapists for our kids, but it was really hard to find any resources as parents to tell us, 'what can I do to help?' I remember asking the therapist, 'what can we do to help?'," she said. "And of course, [my child's] therapists were like, 'well, anything that is discussed with your child is confidential. I understand that, but can you tell me what I can do to help? "

She said that if she had been able to find resources for herself and her spouse, it may also have helped her better understand her children's struggles.

"One, I think I'd want people to know that you're not alone; when talking about it, you'll realize probably almost everybody you meet has some experience in the subject," Gilligan said. "One of the best things I learned a few years ago, is that when you're trying to help a loved one who is struggling with mental health; you can't fix them, you can love them and support them, but you can't fix them."

According to a 2011 report prepared for The Alberta Centre for Child Family and Community Research, "Young adults are more likely than any other age group to report having a mental illness. It is estimated that 70-75 per cent of mood and anxiety disorders emerge during childhood and adolescence."

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