Tara Kimberley Torme is a self-advocate who has been diagnosed with Asberger’s Syndrome. She recently attended the Institute of Families 2014 Conference in Vancouver, and here she shares her experience of the two-day event.

In May I had the opportunity to attend a conference hosted by The Institute of Families thanks to a scholarship. People from all across North America attended the event held at the Coast Plaza in Vancouver. The focus of the conference was to bring together youth and families with researchers, policymakers, service providers and educators to share knowledge and experiences about practices which best meet the needs of people living with mental health and/or substance use challenges.

The Keynote speaker on the opening day talked on a Missing Key to Mental Health System Service Design: The Authentic Voice of Youth and Their Families. In summary, we haven’t as yet ramped up the education for Mental Health Individuals. This is still lacking in Canada due to budget restraints. The experts need to be paid for their services. There should be more awareness for this need and more pressure put on the governments to allocate more funds for those who are disenfranchised through no fault of their own.

From many workshops offered it was challenging to choose just one in each time slot. I attended Emily Gardiner’s presentation on Family Quality Of Life Concept/Instrument. Families with special needs children face many challenges and obstacles as they try to meet the needs of all family members. These include the values of the family and how those are influenced. Families also benefit from outside support such as friends, professional workers and the community as a whole. These supports are essential for their emotional wellbeing. Professional disability related support is essential for those families. An objective approach is difficult when dealing with someone who is very close. The quality of life is also impacted by how much leisure time the family can spend on recreation.

I enjoyed the workshop on Youth Transitions into Adult Mental Health Services. About 45% of youth have 4-6 diagnoses. Due to stigma, fear and denial they have many barriers in accessing the services. They also have concerns with confidentiality. At 18 seeking out help is very daunting and many are just left hanging which contributes to the decline of their mental health and quality of life. For legal adults with invisible disabilities there are limited resources available. These are not always well publicised and it takes a lot of paperwork to access them. They are challenging for most people and most daunting for those with disabilities.

On the last day they had a skit presenting individuals in a particular scenario. It was interactive and the audience would tell the actors on how to improve the situation. It was a lot of fun and a great ending to the conference.

I am really glad that I had the opportunity to attend the conference. This experience opened my eyes a lot about mental health issues other than my own, especially when it relates to youth.

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