‘Watching my son slowly slip away’: Burlington boy, 12, describes his ROCK

Emmett Ouellette is among many Halton youths struggling with mental health challenges.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five children and youth in Ontario has a mental health challenge.

That means there is a very good chance a young person in your life could be struggling with anxiety, depression, an eating disorder or any number of — unfortunately — common mental health struggles. To make matters worse, when parents and youth seek professional help for these challenges, what they could find instead is a system unable to accommodate the demand.

Julie Neal, Burlington parent of 12-year-old Emmett Ouellette, said her last just went through a traumatic year that included extreme anxiety and issues with his peers, including bullying.

When seeking help for her child, Neal said she found the same thing that numerous parents in the region have found — wait lists.

“I had started to reach out for private care, but I was receiving the same information — ‘we’re taxed, we’re taxed. We don’t have any more availability.’ And I’m watching my son slowly slip away, to a point that I came home to an upsetting message on the board where he actually said, ‘The world would be a better place if I wasn’t here,’ said Neal.

That dark place led the family to the Reach Out Center for Kids (ROCK). With locations in every community in Halton, ROCK offers a wide range of mental health services for youth — including a crisis line.

Described as a one-stop shop for youth mental health, ROCK is able to guide a person through the sometimes daunting system of supports, whether that be by connecting them to a therapist, a clinician or a referral to a group.

Emmett said the organization was an important part of his path to feeling better and getting a fresh start.

“I was able to talk to a therapist and get a bunch of things off my chest,” he said. “I didn’t ever feel like they were judging me for anything I said. It just felt like I could say anything I needed to say.”

Now receiving therapy via ROCK, Emmett is doing a lot better. He is going to a new school and feels that because of his therapist, he’s now able to release his feelings in a more positive way.

“If you don’t, you’re just going to have stuff inside for forever and you’re never going to feel completely happy. You’ll never learn from what you went through and you’ll just be in a vicious cycle forever,” said Emmett.

Unfortunately, Emmett’s story is not particularly unique. Many young people across the region are facing the same challenges, Canadian Mental Health Association data shows.

Stephanie Wilsack, operations and development manager for ROCK, said the services the organization provides are aimed at giving young people the tools they need to succeed.

“Mental health can be anything. It can be from dealing with day-to-day crises to trauma to depression, anxiety, to school, to bullying, to your own identity,” said Wilsack.

“Mental health is about your mind being the best it can be. Everybody needs great mental health, from zero (years) to the very end. We want to be able to help and ensure that everybody has the proper coping mechanisms and the tools to be successful.”

Today, Emmett and his family are turning their ordeal into an opportunity to do something positive for the community. Ten Sept. 16 and 17 at the Uptown Social House, they will be hosting a dinner and live music fundraiser with all funds raised going to ROCK.

Tickets cost $50 for dinner. Glenn Groves will be performing and there will be a 50/50 draw and silent auction. Emmett will be speaking at the event along with local dignitaries.

Guests are asked to bring a non-perishable food item for the Burlington Food Bank.

The family is no stranger to charity events, having hosted several over the years, and the early response to this one has been strong. For more information, or to get tickets, visit www.burlingtondads.com.

Emmett has advice for young people who may be facing a similar struggle with peers in their life.

“If it feels like you’re trying super hard to become friends with certain people and it seems like you have to make yourself into a different person, then you don’t want to be friends with those people,” said Emmett.

Anyone interested in learning more about the ROCK is encouraged to visit their website at www.rockonline.ca.

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Amid the rise in mental health struggles among youth, we wanted to share a Halton child’s ordeal and what a local agency is doing to offer support.