Different from the Other Kids

A Book of Interviews for Parents of Challenging Children

Jailing the Vulnerable — March 1, 2017

Jailing the Vulnerable

This blog is brought to you by a member of the DFTOK team, Jesse Bickerton. Jesse is the Project Manager and coordinates things from start to finish. Today Jesse discusses the criminalization of mental illness.

By: Jesse Bickerton

Children with mental health challenges face a number of additional day-to-day issues that other children may not have to typically face. One topic that comes up often during the weekly “Different from the Other Kids” podcast is how often these challenging children end up dealing with the justice system some point in their lives. Over the past few years, this trend has been termed “criminalizing mental illness” and it creates a whole list of issues for the person entering the criminal justice system due to a mental health emergency.

Unhealthy Prison Populations

In a report from The College of Family Physicians of Canada reviewing the Health Status of Prisoners in Canada, it is specifically noted, “Most persons in correctional facilities have mental disorders as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” existing in over 4 of 5 youth currently in detention. When lined up with the statistic that 30% of youth are affected with mental health challenges, there is a large number of youth that get admitted into the criminal justice system.

Why are so many of these individuals with mental health challenges entering the criminal justice system? According to a report from the John Howard Society of Ontario titled, Unlocking Change: Decriminalizing Mental Health Issues in Ontario, “the criminal justice system is more involved with persons with mental health issues than ever before.” The report notes that once an individual enters the criminal justice system, “they do not fare well” and that “practices rooted in punishment and control often only exacerbate the challenges facing people with mental health issues.” The report is fairly extensive, discussing different recommendations to the Province of Ontario surrounding improving mental health through policies and early treatment programs (to name a few).

There are no easy answers when dealing with mental health challenges. Each day can present a different obstacle. We have to change the way we respond to mental health emergencies. There is a lot that needs to be done to ensure that everyone is treated fairly, no matter his or her mental health. As I’ve stated before in a previous blog, stigma is still a major factor surrounding mental health and mental health awareness. This stigma can be further increased with the addition of a criminal record. These factors contribute to the cycle of mental health challenges and incarceration, effectively jailing some of these people for life. This is not the solution.

To check out all of the interviews from our latest season of the Different from the Other Kids podcast, check out the Player Page for links to listen for free! Different from the Other Kids: Law & Disorder Edition features interviews between Angela Tsounis and different parents and professionals who care for or help children with mental health challenges. Check out the Season Three Guide for information about each episode’s guest.

Thanks for reading! Check out Jesse’s information here or check out the DFTOK blog for more posts from the DFTOK team. Don’t forget to check out the Different from the Other Kids podcast, available on iTunes or by clicking here!


Health Status of prisoners in Canada from the official journal of The College of Family Physicians of Canada

Unlocking Change: Decriminalizing Mental Health Issues in Ontario from the John Howard Society of Ontario

Mental Health by the Numbers — February 17, 2017

Mental Health by the Numbers

This blog is brought to you by another member of the DFTOK team, Jesse Bickerton. Jesse is the Project Manager and takes care of things behind the scenes for Different from the Other Kids, coordinating things from start to finish. Today Jesse discusses how stigma surrounding mental illness is still prevalent and the true cost of mental illness.

By: Jesse Bickerton

Mental health and mental health awareness is everywhere in the media today. Bell’s “Let’s Talk” day, perhaps one of the best-publicized campaigns, here in Canada, has raised a staggering $6.5 million this year alone! That’s more than double than what Bell raised back in 2011 when the campaign launched. For those who might be living under a rock, Bell’s Let’s Talk Day is a national event that had Bell Canada donating 5-cents to mental health initiatives for each use of their #LetsTalk hashtag across social media platforms. Bell is one of the many companies adding their voice towards the conversation which is mental health, which is useful at dispelling the stigma still surrounding many mental health challenges. However, the frustrating part is that the stigma surrounding mental illness affects many parts of people’s lives.

Changing Attitudes?

In a recent release from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (or CAMH, located near DFTOK headquarters in Toronto, Ontario), it is reported that 70% of those surveyed “believe attitudes about mental health have changed for the better compared to 5 years ago.” However, 39% indicated “that they would not tell their managers if they were experiencing a mental health problem” and 40% “agreed they have experienced feelings of anxiety or depression but never sought medical help for it.” It seems that people are still not willing to fully discuss mental health, especially in the workplace. This points to attitudes still being mixed around mental illness. We have come a long way as a society to change pre-existing notions around people with mental health challenges, but they still prevent a lot of people seeking help who might need it.

One of the recurring topics discussed by parents interviewed on the Different from the Other Kids podcast (and series of books) is the difficulty receiving adequate services, especially in times of crisis. In the same CAMH release mentioned above, it’s stated that “wait times for counselling and therapy can be long” and “wait times of six months to one year are common.” In the DFTOK podcast, we heard a similar waiting period for various professionals here in Ontario. It can be very difficult for people who need help to find it at the proper time. Local services have been forming to help fill this need, such as COAST, which provides many options to those in the midst of a mental health emergency. But this is useful only in emergency situations… What can we do before the situation becomes an emergency? Is there a way for us to prevent at least some of them?

How Much?

The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) have released their study “Making the Case for Investing in Mental Health” which stresses why investing in mental health is important, not only to the individuals who receive care but also to the Canadian economy at large. The MHCC study puts the cost of mental illness to be $50 billion per year (a figure backed up by the CAMH report), which is measured in terms of not only lost revenue and funds spent on healthcare; but also accounts for lost productivity and employee turnover. The MHCC report points out that investing even a fraction of mental health initiatives would have a noticeable effect on the Canadian economy.

What does this all add up to? We need to keep working towards taking away the stigma surrounding mental health. We can’t put people down for seeking treatment either. The current prevailing attitude among Canadians seems to be changing, but that doesn’t mean that the struggle is over. People dealing with these mental health challenges need real change in terms of the types of treatment and how often they receive care.

I read an interesting post the other day, and I wish I could still find it, but it went something like this… “Don’t be afraid of making noise when adding to the conversation around mental health.” I really liked the idea. That’s what we need to keep doing… Keep talking about mental health. Sharing your story is powerful, and you never know who you might help along the way. If someone can send me a link to the original post, that would be great.

Thanks for reading! Check out Jesse’s information here or check out the DFTOK blog for more posts from the DFTOK team. Don’t forget to check out the Different from the Other Kids podcast, available on iTunes or by clicking here!


Bell Let’s Talk

CAMH: Mental Illness and Addictions: Facts and Statistics

MHCC: Making the Case for Investing in Mental Health


My Turning Point — February 6, 2017

My Turning Point

The Different from the Other Kids team would like to welcome back Christina Tsounis, a 23-year-old living with a Bipolar diagnosis. Through her own words, Christina explains how powerful labels can be and how over-labelling can be harmful to one’s health and recovery.

By: Christina Tsounis

At six years old I was diagnosed and medicated for OCD, anxiety, depression and Tourettes syndrome. By the time I was seventeen, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. However, in the last year, I have had a complete 180 turn in my life. I went from the “sick girl” to the “I can do anything girl”. I keep getting asked how I have been able to turn my bipolar symptoms around. As I reflect back, I realize one of the biggest things it comes down to, is what I become what I believe. Let me explain…

Limiting Beliefs

As a child, I remember always being told something was wrong with me. I was told I was sick, and that I had to take pills to be healthy. What was my mother supposed to do when I was a suicidal six-year-old? My point is that from that age I believed I was mentally ill. I used to believe my diagnosis was a curse. I used Bipolar as my identity. Everything I did reflected me being sick. All my actions reflected the fact that I was bipolar because I believed it.

I remember that I would get into emotional states and feel trapped. Everyone used to say, “Christina, you’re overreacting”. Drama queen was my nickname. I grew up believing that when I would feel emotional, it wasn’t normal to feel like that and I was overdramatic. I had no idea how to control those emotions, and then I wasn’t allowed to feel them.

Turning Point

As I got older, the belief that I was sick got stronger.  All I heard from every doctor and therapist was “Christina you are bipolar. This is going to be the rest of your life. You’re going to have to try and manage. With the right medication, you may be able to have an okay one.” What does that do to a young person’s perception? Nothing good!

About a year ago, I had a turning point. I had been working with a spiritual healer and taught me a lot about meditation and being still. I called her one day hysterically crying. I told her that I was just feeling everything too intensely. She calmly said, “So what, you’re allowed to feel like that Christina.” I stopped crying almost immediately. For the first time in my life, someone had told me I was allowed to feel. I was allowed to be hysterical. She gave me permission to feel emotions. She never saw bipolar in me – she only saw Christina. I can never thank her enough for that day. She showed me nothing was wrong with me.  It’s an illness, not an excuse and not who I am.

Having bipolar doesn’t mean your crazy. When someone has cancer, society doesn’t tell them something is wrong with them. We are all trapped in the idea that mental illness is a life sentence and that you are “loony” if you have one. I believe that just like cancer, mental illness can go into remission. I used to wake up every day bipolar – now I wake up just being Christina. I know this illness lays within me and I know its something I deal with, but it’s just a small part of me.

I also know I am in control of my destiny. The very thing I thought was going to destroy me, gave me life. My illness gave me a purpose and gave me understanding. I know when you’re in it, the feeling can be almost impossible to see out of… But I promise you, you can be healthy. Your life will reflect that back to you.

Want to know more? Check out Christina’s episodes from Different from the Other Kids: Natural Alternatives Edition… Here is Part One, Part Two and Part Three of Christina’s second set of interviews on the podcast. You can also find Christina’s bio here.

Five Things in my Toolbox — February 1, 2017

Five Things in my Toolbox

This week the Different from the Other Kids team would like to welcome frequent podcast guest and Angela’s daughter, Christina Tsounis. If you listen to our weekly podcast, you might remember Christina from both season one and two. Here’s a note from Christina regarding some of the tools she uses in her daily wellness routine…

By: Christina Tsounis

I started medication at the age of six for anxiety, depression and OCD, and I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 17. After searching for answers, following many bouts of depression and hopelessness, I decided to escape the emotional jail built for me. About eighteen months ago, I did a complete 180. Below are a few things from my “toolbox” that have helped me live a life I never thought possible. I spent all those years looking for someone or something to save me, all I needed was to look within myself.

1. Intuitive Movement

Doing some sort of gentle movement with deep breathing is essential for me. Yoga or Thai chi are some great examples. Vigorous exercise works well too, but I find doing slow controlled movements creates a stillness in mind and my body. Taking care of your body is the first step into taking care of your mental well-being.

2. Meditation

Everyone should practice meditation even if it’s just several minutes a few times a week.  By meditating daily I am able to give my mind a break. I still find it hard to focus during the meditation, that is ok. Even if I can only get to that place of stillness for one second of the whole meditation, my brain still experienced that one moment of being quiet. The more I practice it the more my thoughts slow down.

3. Essential Oils

Essential oils have been one of the biggest factors that have helped me go from sick to well. I only use Pure Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils because I ingest them for medicinal purposes. The most important oil for me is Frankincense which acts as a natural chemical to help balance my moods. A close second is lavender. I frequently roll lavender oil over my heart, behind my ears and under my nose to help soothe me whenever I get into an anxious situation. It works magic. It’s crazy that something natural can change my state so quickly. There’s an oil for everything!

4. Mindfulness

Something so small like stopping for a moment to take a deep breath can change our moods. As an example, when I have my cup of coffee in the morning, I stop and take a sip and say out loud, “I am grateful for that delicious coffee”. When I am stopped at a traffic light, I will look up at the sky and take a deep breath and just acknowledge how beautiful the sky is. Those tiny moments are where I feel grateful to be alive. The more I put them into practice the more my attitude changes. When I focus on being grateful, I feel grateful.

5. Affirmations

Affirm yourself every day. At the end of the day, I used to lay in bed and analyze everything I did that day and tear myself apart for it. I would criticize and beat myself all the imagined missteps I did that day (as I’m sure a lot of you understand). This was where affirmations changed my life. When I find myself in a negative headspace I place my hand on my chest and say, “I love you,” and, “You are enough”. It sounds silly and so simple, but the effects are incredible. If my best friend were getting verbally beat up, I would comfort them. I had to stop judging myself and to learn to comfort myself.

Final Thoughts

I want to mention: what works for me might not work for you. Whatever you decide to try, if it doesn’t work the first time, please don’t give up. I tried all of the above things once or twice and they didn’t work so I believed that they wouldn’t help me. It wasn’t until I committed to not letting this be my story that things changed. It’s not just one thing that is going to fix everything, it’s about creating a tool box that is loaded with tools you can pull out whenever you need them. Find what makes you feel good and just keep doing it. With some faith and some hard work your “life sentence” can become your biggest opportunity.

Want to know more? Check out Christina’s episodes from Different from the Other Kids: Natural Alternatives Edition… Here is Part One, Part Two and Part Three of Christina’s second set of interviews on the podcast. You can also find Christina’s bio here.

Under 48 hours till Launch! — November 18, 2015