May 27, 2020

Artwork project helps parents of kids with mental health issues answer the question, ‘Am I enough?’

Collaborative Social Work research graphically captures parents’ struggles
Dorothy Badry
Dorothy Badry

As all parents know, raising children and adolescents can be challenging. However, for parents of children with mental health issues, being a parent brings a whole different set of challenges, which can often leave parents asking, Am I enough?”

This is the title of a new PhotoVoice research collaboration between the University of Calgary Faculty of Social Work researcher Dr. Dorothy Badry, PhD, and CASA Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health (CASA). The research explores the experiences of parents and brings awareness to the issues facing families trying to cope with children struggling with mental health issues — issues which have intensified with the loss of services and isolation measures to deal with Covid-19.

  • Photo above: Dorothy Badry. Photo by Don McSwiney

PhotoVoice is an artwork project,” says Candace Fehr, one of the project leaders and a co-chair of the CASA Family Advisory Council (FAC.) The photos come from our FAC members. We use art — whether its photos of people or inanimate objects — and we pair the photos with a narrative describing what its like to be a caregiver of a child, or youth who is in mental health systemic care.

"Our hope is the project will be seen by service providers and by government officials, and that it will be a means to create mental health systemic change.”

Virtual gala May 29 features address by Deena Hinshaw

The Photovoice project was supposed to be unveiled as a physical art-walk during CASA’s spring gala. It’s been replaced by a virtual gala and display which will be held online this Friday, May 29, at 7:30 p.m. The gala is free to everyone — participants are asked to pre-register to attend.

Canadian tenor Adam Fisher hosts the event that features appearances by figure skater Jamie Sale, the Victoria School Choir and an address by Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health. Hinshaw will address the stress being felt by children and their families with COVID-19, and the impact on their mental health.

“We started this project before COVID-19 hit,” says Badry, “and we’re seeing in some of the images that the question "Am I enough?” has taken on a whole new meaning as parents now have their children home full-time and are coping with new circumstances that have been challenging and difficult.

"I think to have a project of this nature start up at a time when children, youth and families have all their supports in place has taken on a whole new depth of meaning since many of those supports have changed, school is not available and many supports are only available online.”

Courtesy of CASA

Organizations like CASA — a community-based organization that provides mental health services to infants, children, adolescents and their families in Alberta — are an essential service but the social distancing rules have drastically curtailed the assessment and treatment  services provided. CASA’s CEO Dr. Denise Milne, PhD, says she hopes the research collaboration will give a voice to the increasingly critical issues parents are dealing with on a daily basis.

I wanted to look at a project that would have huge impact,” she says. Be bold. Bring forward a parents perspective on working with the mental health system, understanding and navigating the system on behalf of their child and family.”

The hope is that “Am I enough?” will create understanding and awareness, which could lead to improved access and service delivery and as well as creating more appreciation of parent challenges and perspectives. This is something many parents believe is sorely needed in the health-care system.

I think that we're not seen as a partner because we don't have a degree behind our name or we're just the parents,” says Greta Gerstner, a parent member of FAC. But we live with it day and day out. Its kind of an invisible problem. I don't think they realize the magnitude of how much a mental health challenge really taxes a family's resources and how parents can feel like they're on the journey all by themselves.”

Courtesy of CASA

We need to capture the essence of how a caregiver feels,” adds Fehr. Some days are really hard, but on other days weve got it going on. Those are the emotions well be trying to evoke.”

The collaborators are hoping to show the photo voice display once social distancing requirements have been lifted, and perhaps putting the display up on a web gallery in the interim. Check CASA’s website for more details and to learn more about their services. You can also watch a video focusing on a parent’s perspective during Covid-19.


UCalgary resources on COVID-19

For the most up-to-date information about the University of Calgary's response to the spread of COVID-19, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Response website.