In this BONUS episode released on #BellLetsTalk Day, Nicole German, founder of The Maddie Project, shares her experience and thoughtful advice to parents, family members, coaches, teachers, anyone who interacts with youth. Youth mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression are common. We need to step-it-up with awareness, empathy, and advocacy. “Anything we can do is goodness.” Doing little things and doing big things will make an impact, potentially saving a life. Shine bright! Note this is a re-release of Talk About Talk episode #36.
- SUMMARY: Talking Youth Mental Health
- References & Links
Talking Youth Mental Health
- Youth mental health concerns are common, and increasingly so.
Not only do many kids struggle, only about a quarter of them have access to mental health care. Suicide in youth is the second leading cause of death. So as adults, in whatever capacity (parents, extended family, friends, coaches, teachers), we need to step up.
- Three things we can do: Awareness, Empathy, and Advocacy.
We need to watch for signals in our children (like isolation, or an obsession with social media, or dropping grades, or a loss
of interest in things that they used to enjoy), – and then step in to help. That help means two things: being empathetic and advocating for the child, be it at school or through the mental health system. Don’t wait. Just get on it.
- The significance of WHY.
Children should be able to voice mental health concerns without knowing why they’re happening. Make sure that the kids around you know that they can tell you how they’re feeling without explaining WHY. As Nicole says, encourage kids to put their hand up for help. Separately, we should be monitoring the youth around us and not jumping to conclusions for WHY they’re acting a certain way. When a kid acts out or misbehaves at school, the WHY is probably not because they’re a bad kid. The WHY could be stress or anxiety or depression. So give the kid a break.
- We should talk openly about mental health.
We all have mental health. It’s a spectrum. We all have good days and we all have bad days. And as Nicole says, mental health is like nutrition, we should wake up and think about it every day. She encourages us to have an open dialogue about mental health at the dinner table with our kids and their friends, just making it an open conversation. Normalizing it so people aren’t ashamed of speaking about having an off day – or if they’re considering getting a therapist. That should be celebrated, not something to be ashamed of.
- “Anything we can do is goodness”
Doing little things and doing big things will help and make an impact, potentially saving a life. If you’re interested in learning more about The Maddie Project and potentially making a donation to help in the quest to raise awareness for youth mental health, check out the website here.
REFERENCES & LINKS
Nicole German & The Maddie Project
- The Maddie Project – http://www.themaddieproject.ca/
- Donation Page – https://my.charitableimpact.com/campaigns/the-maddie-project-0350d836-cf47-4735-8602-a57990626e03
- Maddie’s Healing Garden at North York General Hospital – https://nyghfoundation.ca/news-and-publications/north-york-general-opens-first-of-its-kind-outpatient-mental-health-centre-for-youth/
- Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Twitter – @nicgerman and @maddie_project
- Instagram – @maddie_project
Other Mental Health Resources
- Kids’ Help Phone – https://kidshelpphone.ca
- Children’s Mental Health Ontario: https://www.cmho.org/
- Suicide Prevention Lifeline – https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
- CAMH – Centre for Addiction & Mental Health – http://www.camh.ca/
- Huffington Post – “Frame of Mind” Series – https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/frame-of-mind/
- Other articles:
Talk About Talk & Dr. Andrea Wojnicki
- “Beyond Condolences: Supporting Your Grieving Friends” podcast episode – https://talkabouttalk.com/19s2-supporting-our-grieving-friends-with-psychotherapist-grief-counsellor-andrea-warnick/
- Website: TalkAboutTalk.com
- LinkedIn: Andrea and TalkAboutTalk
- Weekly Communication Skills Newsletter – https://talkabouttalk.com/blog/#newsletter-signup
- Email – Andrea@TalkAboutTalk.com
Welcome to this bonus episode, where we Talk About Youth Mental Health. I’m releasing this episode on January 25th, which in Canada is Bell Let’s Talk Day, a day when one of Canada’s largest telecoms encourages everyone to TALK about mental health.
I’m in no way affiliated with Bell, but I love this initiative. And I was thinking this would be an ideal opportunity to re-release an important Talk About Talk podcast episode from a few years ago, episode #36, when I interviewed the incredible Nicole German. I emailed Nicole a few days ago and she agreed a this was a good idea. You’re in for some impactful insights – I promise.
It was almost eight years ago when Nicole lost her beautiful teenaged daughter to suicide. Madeline Grace German Coulter, fondly named Maddie, struggled with anxiety and depression. Since then, Nicole started The Maddie Project, – to support youth struggling with depression and other mental health concerns.
In this podcast episode, you’ll learn a lot – I promise. Whether you’re a parent, an aunt or uncle, a coach, a teacher, however you interact with young people, the lessons coming out of this episode can have a significant impact, and possibly even save a life. As Nicole and her sons Zachary and Sawyer like to say, big things and little things – everything can help.
Let me formally introduce Nicole German. Nicole is a force. I truly don’t know how she does it. Amongst other things, Nicole is a proud mom to her sons Zachary & Sawyer, a global-tech marketer, a business strategy executive, and also the founder and executive director of The Maddie Project. As I mentioned, Nicole started The Maddie Project in memory of her daughter, Madeline.
I hope you’ll take a moment to check out The Maddie Project online at www.themaddieproject.ca. So The Maddie Project is all about raising awareness, improving access to mental health care, and raising money to support youth mental health facilities THANK YOU, Nicole, for your relentless work on these important goals.
To date, the Maddie Project has engaged millions of people in active conversations around youth mental health and has raised almost $3.5 million to enhance youth mental health services in support of North York General Hospital Foundation, Stella’s Place, Lumemus / Skylark Children, Youth and Families, Outward Bound Canada and DAREarts.
Nicole has been recognized with many awards for the impact of her work. She’s been volunteering for decades. I met Nicole when we both served as governors of the North York General Hospital foundation, where she now serves as chair of the board.
And if that wasn’t enough, Nicole is also the Chief Marketing and Digital Experience Officer at Tangerine Bank, Canada’s #1 digital bank. Wow, right? I could go on and on.
But instead, it’s time to let you hear Nicole’s voice and her insights on Youth Mental Health.
Dr. Andrea Wojnicki: Thank you so much, Nicole, for taking the time and sharing your story with us today.
Nicole German: Great. Thanks for having me.
AW: So I thought it would be nice if you could start by telling us a bit about Maddie.
NG: Sure. So I’m the mom of three kids. And Madeline, who we also call Maddie, was my oldest daughter. And so she was one of the easiest babies you could ever imagine. Actually, she was very easy going. And then when she had two younger brothers, she really became the nurturer. So typical big sister looking out for her two younger brothers. And then as she progressed through life, I would say was definitely on the spectrum of high performance, whether it was academically or through sports. And very social, very well liked. And as she approached adolescence and puberty, some things started to really change for her. And I think as first time parents, we weren’t really sure whether this was just things that were from a puberty perspective, or there was really more to it. So she progressed into middle school and high school. She started to struggle with, not being able to get her homework done, or not wanting to go to sports to compete, sometimes not going out with friends. And the reality was that we thought it was just a phase. But in fact, what we learned over time was she had anxiety and pretty severe anxiety. And so, the thing with anxiety is that it’s really hard to focus when you have anxiety. And when you can’t focus, it’s hard to do homework and then when you don’t do homework, you don’t do well in school, which makes you feel terrible. And it becomes really this vicious circle and so in essence, that was really the beginning of a journey for Madeline and her struggling with anxiety and in essence depression.
AW: Can you tell us a little bit about The Maddie Project?
NG: Sure. Madeline struggled with depression for a number of years and it got more challenging over time. And it really came to the point where she passed away from depression. So she took her own life and at that moment when we had to communicate to people that she had died and why she had died, it was like these floodgates opened up. There were so many families, actually, from grandparents to parents to teachers and coaches and even youth themselves that came forward and told their story that either they had a sibling or a child or a parent that either they had lost to suicide and depression but never spoken about it, or that they were in fact struggling. And so what became very apparent was that it was sort of this hidden disease that nobody really wanted to talk about,
AW: would you say taboo?
NG: Definitely taboo. And I think there was a there was a shame and so when Madeline was sick, she was in hospital and she really said, “Mommy, don’t tell anybody that I’m here.” And so we really were living these two lives where, at the end of work every day, we were rushing to the hospital to be with her, but nobody knew, outside of very close family and a few friends. You kind of equate it to say, if my child has cancer and was in hospital for cancer, there would be no question that we would talk about that. But because she was there because she had attempted suicide, it was taboo to speak about and fear that she would be judged. Right.
AW: So do you feel like that is changing a little bit?
NG: Yeah. So I mean, I think it’s a spectrum, if we kind of think back to kind of the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest kind of perspective, we’ve made huge strides. I would say that the youth now that I see are speaking more openly about mental health, which I think is great. I think when it comes to, youth and their parents, if you’ve kind of lived it, people are more open, but there’s still a real hesitancy or sort of a judgment on how to even respond to that, right? Because it’s complex, and it’s also hard to relate to it. As my youngest son would say, it’s really an invisible disease. And you don’t really know when it’s going to show up right…
AW: invisible disease. That’s, that’s amazing. I did a podcast episode with a grief counselor a couple of months ago. And she was just talking about how even death itself is taboo. So it’s almost as if there’s a second layer then, right? Because you’ve experienced a death, of a very close family member. Yeah. And it was through suicide.
NG: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I mean, I find, when Madeline was struggling, it was it was very hard for me to relate and understand, because I very much grew up in the world of: if you get up and have a shower and wash your face, you’ll feel better. But the reality is that depression isn’t like that. Like when you say you can’t get out of bed. It’s truly because you can’t get out of bed. And now having lived through a tremendous tragedy, and experience, grief. It’s very relatable. The notion of saying I don’t have the energy to get out of bed, and it’s incredibly frustrating. I mean, there were moments and – there still are, I mean, it’s a number of years later, where I don’t have the energy to drive my boys to sports because I just I physically don’t. And you know, calling in that favor without kind of explaining why… it’s challenging, and some people think, sometimes you feel like oh, I’m not being a great parent. But again, grief has some of those symptoms that are similar to things like depression and in that way, right?
AW: Even like PTSD?
NG: And even PTSD, exactly right. And so I think, having that self-awareness of saying, it’s okay, it’s okay that today’s a day that you need to just be okay to yourself and allow others to help you. AW: Part of that is what you’re doing here today – being on this podcast and hopefully encouraging other people to have open conversations – whether they themselves are experiencing mental health issues or talking about mental health concerns.
NG: Right and I think we all have mental health. It’s really a spectrum you have your up and days down. I used to say to Madeline that everybody has these challenges and some people have different levels of resilience at different moments in their life. And so the complexity of whether it’s everything from nutrition to biology to heredity to social to just environments,. And so I think we all have good days and bad days. And so you can equate it to that. Right? And it’s very much a spectrum.
AW: So does it help to equate it to our physical health? I mean, it sounds as if what you’re describing are symptoms of someone who is physically exhausted or maybe has the flu. Right?
NG: Exactly. I mean, everything, just for clarity. this is always my own perspective. I’m not a professional. And I believe that mental health is like nutrition, we should wake up and think about it every day, right? And where are we on our scale? And so there are physical symptoms, but sometimes there aren’t. Sometimes it’s literally something that might trigger you to react in some way. We have to really have our eyes wide open. I’ll give an example of Madeline in particular, when she was 11. She had these severe stomach aches Everything else was she was functioning perfectly well doing well in school sports, everything. And I took it to every doctor under the sun. And we had all of these tests, not a single one said anxiety, because everything else in her life seemed perfectly A-Okay. And I know now in hindsight, for sure, that was anxiety and it went away over time. And so she got she got better with her stomach aches. But again, it was just like not kind of having the eyes-wide-open to sort of say, maybe there is more to this and maybe it is something like anxiety. When she was young she was a perfectionist. She wouldn’t do her printing at Montessori because she wanted it to be perfect. And so if she couldn’t do it perfectly, she didn’t want to do it at all, right? So again, like when you kind of look,…
AW: it’s always hindsight is 20-20.
NG: Of course, but I think those are the things that are for all of us. And any adults that are exposed to kids are just like… the kids that go on are starting to go off the rails. Or acting differently than when they were children, those are the kids that we actually need to empathize with. Rather than label them, say, Oh, that’s the bad one, I don’t want you hanging out with that child anymore because they’re a bit of a troublemaker, but actually, you know what? They are not intentionally bad, there’s more to their story. And so, I always tell parents – that’s when you need to invite them over for the family dinner, and sometimes getting out of their own family space to kind of make sure that they’re ok.
AW: So, as parents and caregivers and teachers, we’re always constantly monitoring children for their physical health ailments, right? It’s like this mental health spectrum needs to be assessed and we need to be aware of it. It’s just awareness. Right?
NG: Absolutely. It’s awareness and it’s empathy. It’s realizing that the kids are under a lot of pressure to perform these days and to really race through life. And the reality is, is that there’s no hurry, and there’s no rush. But also to kind of coach them through these types of scenarios. And so if they don’t do well on a test, let’s sit down and help coach them through that, right, the more that we can kind of teach them at a young age to get through those challenging times, but also just those basic resilience or, mindfulness or, when I’m feeling stressed, how do I breathe? Or how do I think? Or how do I take a moment to … really consciously give them those life skills to kind of take them on, throughout the course of their life?
AW: It’s like resilience training, but getting it really down to physically and mentally – what’s going on?
AW: Do you have advice for parents and maybe someone who’s listening to this? And they’re thinking, Oh, my gosh, my son or my daughter sounds like that. And maybe it’s been in the back of their mind and maybe because it still is, to some extent a taboo in our culture. They haven’t done anything about it. Whereas if it was a physical ailment, they would have called their medical doctor, can you recommend what they should do?
NG: Yeah, for sure. Unfortunately, at least in Canada, and lots of countries around the world, it’s very hard to get access to care whether it’s paid or not paid or through health care. It’s a challenge because there’s such a great demand. So number one is that as a parent, you need to advocate for your child’s health care, first and foremost. So don’t wait. As soon as you start to see signs, speak openly with the child to let them know that if something’s not feeling, right, that’s okay. They don’t need to know why that just that they need to kind of check in to explain that and then bring in that community or that circle of care. Yeah, it’s really for kids to articulate if they’re feeling off.
AW: They don’t have to know the answer why, right?
NG: Or if they’re feeling tired, or they don’t feel like going out with their friends, or they can’t focus. Really, the first step is allowing those kids to put their – encouraging those kids to put their hand up for help. And whether that’s with a parent or an adult that’s trusted. But often cases, there may not be a solution out of the gates. But just to know that someone’s there for you is incredibly important, especially, at early stages.
AW: So in addition to encouraging kids to put their hand up, as you said, to say something’s wrong, even if they don’t know why, what else can parents do in terms of helping their children?
NG: So the first step is going to your family doctor. Letting them know, see how they can help to triage and really do some assessment. And then the next part of that is really looking within your community in terms of what access to care there is. So in some cases, there are walk-in clinics or resources at school. So really, look within the community of care to see what’s available and continue to pursue, even if there are waitlists. But to continue to, of course, put yourself on the waitlist, but keep calling back, especially if it’s a more severe scenario. In the case of acuteness, or if you’re worried about suicidal ideation or what have you, don’t take it lightly. Definitely go to your local hospital. I think that’s something where, even if kids are talking about that, it’s not something that we should take lightly. And then there’s a number of triage centers, like Kids Help Phone can help. There’s the navigation program that can really sort of say, I’m in this situation now, based on what you’re hearing, what, what are those best solutions?
AW: So really be looking for access to care that way and being a proactive advocate?
NG: Absolutely proactive. And so to the degree that you can, making sure that their teachers, guidance counselors, even coaches and close friends of parents are aware that, they’re struggling. Because I think the greater that community of care is, the more supportive they will be of the child, whether it’s your own kid or someone else’s.
AW: I love that point.
NG: Yeah, exactly. And I think for the kids too. We talk a lot about never leaving anybody behind. And even just having that notion of, it’s sort of basic principles but like treat everyone the way that you would be wanting to be treated. Because you don’t always know what’s going on behind the scenes. So if someone’s kind of off on their own or seems to be struggling, you don’t have to be best friends with them. But just saying hello or being there or, walking down the hall with them. I think it’s really encouraging as well.
AW: Nicole, honestly, when I pick my kids up from school today, I’m going to be talking to them differently because they always tell me stories about quote unquote bad kids.
AW: Yeah. And instead of saying, oh, man, just what was that kid thinking? It’ll be: What do you think’s going on?
NG: Exactly. And I think, when you lose someone or you’ve been close to, dealing with someone struggling with pretty severe mental health challenges, it changes your perspective completely. For me it’s still feels very irrational and how you can lose someone that way? But it’s an illness, right? And so it’s not like they intended it. Typically when you see someone in public environments, you know, whether they’re on the street or whatever, each of those individuals have a story, right? So even if it’s a young child and they’re being at quote unquote bad kid, maybe there’s more to it. Right. I think I think that’s, the way that we should look, especially for young people, because, they’re just still little
AW: and they’re still learning.
NG: Yeah, exactly.
AW: Learning to deal with the world and also with themselves.
AW: So when I was preparing for this interview, I read something that you wrote that’s online, and you said, doing little things and doing big things to help. Can you describe what that means?
NG: When The Maddie Project was sort of formed, and we had great community engagement, we worked together with North York General Hospital to support Maddie’s Healing Garden. So we pledged to raise a million dollars – which for me, well, it was a legacy for my daughter – was a big monkey on my back to have to raise a million dollars and not being a fundraiser … and so it was momentous. And we had incredible support to make that happen, and it’s been fully funded and open now, which is amazing. But what I realized is that anything that we can do is goodness, right? And so whether it’s $20 at a bake sale, or just wearing a T shirt with The Maddie Project or Shine Bright on the back. People say, Oh, what is that? and saying, Oh, it’s, for Youth Mental Health, just having that conversation is so critical. And my sons are engaged in their school communities and speaking. And we say, if you touch one kid in that audience, and they go home and tell mom or dad or their trusted adult, that they’re struggling, like, you’ve saved a life, potentially, right? Like you’ve made a huge impact. So just as we say, just by sparking conversations, we’re making change.
AW: Wow, that is incredibly inspiring. Is there anything else you want to say to parents in particular, again, perhaps coaches or teachers, about mistakes, from your perspective that you see them commonly making or things that you wish they knew?
NG: I think the biggest thing there is empathy. I think to the point around, we all have rules and regulations. But when you see a kid that particularly – you’ve known in the past is acting differently. Just that notion of eyes-wide-open is not to judge based on their behavior at that moment, but just know who they are. Or that, we as humans are all good people. So I think particularly these kids, they’re up against such different environments, and 20 years ago, the pressures that they live, and so I think that would be one point, but most importantly, is to have an open dialogue about mental health at the dinner table, with friends, kids’ friends around the table, just making an open conversation. So people aren’t afraid to talk about or aren’t ashamed of speaking about it, not feeling off or having to get extra help from a therapist or whatever they’re needing to take some days off of school. I think it’s really important that we can just be speak openly .And not to judge.
AW: That’s great advice. I want to change gears here a little bit and ask you about the role of social media in adolescent mental health. So we’ve all heard horror stories about kids that have been bullied online, and then they’ve become anxious or depressed or both. And I wondered if you had any perspective on that to share?
NG: Yeah, for sure. my professional life is surrounded around social media and social media marketing. And so, the platforms exist. I think there’s a lot of good, there’s a lot of opportunity around creating connections amongst people, but it’s really exposed a challenge for our kids and a distortion to reality, not just for children, actually for everyone, and in fact, sort of addictions. And so I think the idea of having open conversations around like what reality is, and what isn’t, and then the notion of watching your kids for what they can handle and what they can’t. Because that I idea of posting the perfect picture – or you know – who engaged with it and who didn’t? It’s not even bullying but can be perceived by a young person is feeling like I didn’t get as many likes or…
AW: The like count thing is huge.
NG: Yeah, even if there are comments made, it’s not the same as a conversation. What I used to say with Madeline is that when you interact with a person face to face, they would never engage with you in the way that they did online. And so I think every family is different. They chose to how to how to manage and monitor social media for their kids and their families. I think the idea is just again, to be aware of how much time they’re being spent and how it’s actually impacting them in their behavior, right? Because I don’t know that it’s going to go away. And so we just need to make sure that we equip our kids with the right tools on how to engage and how to live with that in their life.
AW: I think it’s a very fair point about it being a personal decision about how you how much you monitor. A couple times I’ve sat down with my kids to go through their phones with them. And actually, based on this conversation now, I will try to do that more frequently, but in a different way. Like we would look at people’s posts and say, Why do you think they did that?
AW: And yeah, do you think there’s a filter on there? And what do you think their goal? Was it to get likes? Or was it to shame someone else? Or – and I love your point about, they would never say it to your face, but they’ll type it there.
AW: Yeah, I’ve read two pieces of research recently, like within the last two months, I would say, that are interesting. In this context, one said that for teenagers, there’s a simple correlation between hours spent on social media and depression. Full stop.
NG: Yeah, I mean, it doesn’t surprise me. I mean, the statistics are there for sure. And I think not just for kids, right? Even for adults. We’re all subject to using that as a primary form of receiving content. So it’s hard to kind of step away and walk away. The idea of both my boys go off to wilderness camp in the summer and the idea of not having any device around ….so that they actually learn to communicate and articulate.
NG: Yeah, like, like for multiple days over a month. It is really actually – it’s really important. It’s fundamental. I think again, another point to be eyes wide open is really to understand the statistics. I mean, even after we lost Madeline, I was astounded by the statistics. So, one in five kids will struggle, only 25% will get access to care for mental health care, and suicide in youth is the second leading cause of death. And so those statistics are real, right? And they’re horrifying, frankly. And I’m a huge believer that if we don’t help these kids today, we’re not going to have a workforce in the future, right? Or we’re not, because I mean, these are our future, or they’re the future workforce. And I think we, whether it’s the government, corporate Canada, and we in the communities, we have to help these kids make sure that they have the tools and the monitoring, to make sure that their mental health is stable, for the long term.
AW: Right. And I just wanted to add the other research that I read said that children’s anxiety goes up when they have their phone in their room – when they’re trying to sleep. And I felt like, well, again, this is not just kids, adults should have their phone outside of their room. Then you’re not thinking about all the texts or whatever the comments that you’re missing from your friends online. You’re just sleeping. Your phone’s beside you, when you’re in bed. You’re not freaking out. My daughter, when I sent her to bed the other night, she said, Mom, if you could see my phone right now, my friends are all chatting. And I’m like, well, maybe three of the 10 are but they’re exhausted. And frankly, you need the sleep.
NG: Yeah. Well, and I think while the utility of a phone is amazing, because it frankly does everything for us – you could do grocery shopping and you can interact with people across the world. And so often we have it by our bedside, right? Whether it’s for your alarm or, make sure that the older teenagers get home on time and things like that. It’s a challenge. Right? And I think Arianna Huffington has done some great research about how do you shut down in the evening right? It’s more around adults – but I think the same practice lies with the, with our young people to realize what is healthy behavior? I get it used to be – in our day – not watching TV.
AW: Right! Exactly.
NG: Not falling asleep with the TV on in your room or whatever that is. So I think again, it’s the same kind of behavior is really forcing yourself to decompress without that. So that we can get a healthy sleep and kind of clear the mind of, of any types of anxiety.
AW: what helps me a lot is to remind myself that our jobs when we were teenagers was to push boundaries against our parents and it’s the same thing. Now our kids are pushing. It’s their job to seek access to their phone or to try to stay up later and it’s our job to set boundaries that are healthy for them, right? Mentally and physically?
NG: Absolutely right. I find it’s challenging. I know in our family, we had discussions of what is age appropriate to get a phone. Once we got to the third child from him having a phone, it gave us a little bit more independence because we knew that he could not only interact with us, but also with his siblings, if you know they were going somewhere together, what have you, and so…
AW: also taking an Uber!
NG: Yeah, exactly. Right. So I get it. Back to you can do anything from your phone. But yeah, the notion of boundaries is really important. But again, I think it comes back to like the articulation of why. It’s not just like, you can’t have your phone after 10 o’clock, or whatever the time is. It’s like really? Let’s talk about it right? Like why does this make sense? Or maybe on a Friday night, it’s okay or whatever that is, because they can sleep in or I’m not sure. Again, but just you have to – each person and each kid is so different.
AW: I feel like the question of why is a bit of a meta-theme here, with this discussion. You said earlier, that we should be encouraging our children to come to us when they have issues or challenges. Even if they don’t know why, and then we talked about also when someone’s misbehaving, you shouldn’t just accuse them of being bad. You should question why. Why might they be acting that way? Right?
NG: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. And we always jump to the conclusion or versus really looking at – what are the symptoms? Is there a rationale? What’s going on? I mean, even for teachers, right, I think, again, schools have to have their rules and the regulations. But not every kid has a diagnosis of anxiety. And I mean, I have a great little story about Madeline. She was in grade nine that she started a new school. The policy was that if you didn’t show up for a test or an assignment, you got zero. And so she had a classroom presentation of which she went to the bathroom because she was having an anxiety attack. So she didn’t show up for the presentation. And so I went into the teacher the next day, not asking for her to … I was really good. I was really asking her, can you bring her in on a one-to-one, let her do the presentation and tell her what she would have gotten? I wasn’t asking her to not give her a zero. And she said, No, she didn’t show up. She gets a zero. And I said, I understand that. But I’m asking you to kind of, throw her a bone. And I said, I said, she was in the bathroom with an anxiety…. She had an anxiety attack. And she said, Well, she didn’t, she didn’t tell anybody. And I said, well, because she’s anxiety, she’s horrified to let anyone know. And she said, Well, she doesn’t have a diagnosis, for anxiety, and I said, and I didn’t actually say this, because I didn’t want to drag her into my life. But I was like, that’s because I’ve been waiting on a waitlist to see a psychiatrist for six months. So I, like, again, it was that vicious notion of a vicious circle again. And just the idea of the empathy to say, I had a kid who’s struggling and she’s not a bad kid, she had an anxiety attack. Why don’t we bring her in and just show her that she’s capable of doing a great presentation or coaching her through it, versus these are the rules, the rules are zero. It was very, it was black or white, and I think, again, and as a parent, I mean, I was sitting there emotionally, trying to not ask for a bending of the rules for my child, but having a bit of empathy and …
AW: so next time she wouldn’t have that anxiety attack because she would know that she could do it!
NG: Exactly. But even just knowing like, I’m capable of doing it right. And so again, it’s just the challenge of like, there is a lot more to that story than her just not showing up to do her presentation.
NG: And so I think, we can all we can all work better on that. And give people the benefit of that.
AW: So is there anything else you want to add? Especially, I think in terms of parents talking to kids?
NG: Yeah. I mean, I think our mission is really to help raise awareness around youth mental health to reduce the stigma, first and foremost. And the second is about creating uninhibited access to care. It’s really kind of breaking down the barriers so that families and their kids can get their foot in the door. And so, I think coming back to what can all of us do is just be opening the conversation about mental health. When you see somebody acting differently or being off, it’s just to ask, how are they doing? Is everything okay? Right? And to let them know that you’re there for them. You don’t have to be a solution or, but just to know that you’ve got a support system, I think it’s so important.
AW: That’s is almost identical to what I heard from the grief counselor, in terms of how to speak, how to support your friend who’s in mourning or who’s grieving – is you don’t have to provide solutions. You don’t have to provide answers. You just need to know that you’re there for them.
NG: Exactly. Yeah. It’s amazing. Yeah.
AW: Okay. This is a bit of a rude transition. But now, let’s move on to the five rapid fire questions. I hope you can have fun with these.
AW: Okay. The first question is, what are your pet peeves?
NG: Leaving all the cupboard doors open! You walk in the kitchen and all the cupboard doors are open. I think I would go with like the front hall clutter. I can handle it if it’s out-of-sight-out-of-mind from that perspective. And I think committing to your word. So when people sort of say, Well, I’m going to get together on Friday and then like never deliver on that and they keep rescheduling,…
AW: okay, second question. What type of learner Are you visual, auditory kinesthetic, or maybe some other kind of learner?
NG: Definitely visual. So I’m a visual, I would say experiential learner, I absorb content and information or just like, especially culturally, when you’re traveling somewhere just like sitting in a space and just really taking it all in. I think for me, I’m very much a visual learner,
AW: and how does that affect your communication?
NG: It’s interesting because I do a lot of virtual work. So I definitely prefer things like video conference and leveraging that as a form of virtual meetings and online but more interactive. So work in progress. So rather than waiting for kind of a final result is really having iterative work in a collaborative way.
AW: Next question, introvert or extrovert?
NG: I was born an introvert, but I’ve been coached to be an extrovert. I would say I remember as a child being incredibly shy, standing almost behind my mother, at family parties and being very, very shy. I think over time just through work, cultural experiences. I’ve kind of I’ve pushed myself to be more extroverted.
AW: Well, I’ve seen you on stage behind the podium talking about The Maddie Project, and you are phenomenal.
NG: Yeah, when is it when it’s something you’re incredibly passionate about, it comes a lot easier, that’s for sure. I’ll say when you have to stand in front of really anybody to talk about something that is incredibly challenging, it takes a ton of courage and a ton of energy and vulnerability.
NG: And so I think that has definitely taught me a lot about who I am, but also understanding that when you have big presentations, particularly around The Maddie Project, that you give yourself some downtime, after the fact. Because I’ve spoken with other parents that have are strong advocates for youth mental health, that have lost their kids, and the level of exhaustion kind of when you come through it. It’s amazing.
AW: I can’t do imagine. That would be exhausting. Okay, communication preference for personal conversations?
NG: So for me, in person is always the best, of course, otherwise it’s FaceTime. So I use FaceTime a lot a lot. I travel a fair amount, and so I’m not always here. And it’s interesting because even my youngest son won’t text or call, he’ll just FaceTime me. So doesn’t matter what time of day or what have you. It’s just something that is more of his thing. And so definitely…
AW: maybe he’s like you and he’s visual as well. Right?
NG: Maybe? Yeah, it could be. It could be that, it could be that.
AW: Okay, last question. Is there a podcast or a blog or an email newsletter that you find yourself recommending the most?
NG: So this one, I would say no. I would call myself a content junkie. I love podcasts, but I really focus on the topics and I have a kind of a broad range, but I actually love and I find myself spending a lot of time listening to podcasts about people talking about their life stories.
AW: So autobiographies?
NG: Autobiographies, or just famous people or business leaders that are sharing their journeys. And it’s amazing to really see the correlations of people sharing very challenging times in their lives, but they continue to progress and move forward. And so there’s no one podcast per se, but right now, podcasts are my medium of content. I used to run listening to music and now actually I run listening to podcasts.
AW: Amazing. So how can listeners connect with you if they want to ask you about The Maddie Project or anything else?
AW: not surprising
NG: Yeah. And so that’s the best way. We’re small and nimble. So we really try to respond where, again, really community based. We’re trying to connect people with either resources, or other parents that are going through similar situations, but living true to our mission is that we’re just there. To be of whatever support and offer kind of a listening ear for those that might be struggling.
AW: That’s great. Thank you so, so much Nicole, for sharing your story and your insights. I really appreciate it. And I know a lot of people do as well.
NG: Yeah. Well, thanks for shining a light on us and on mental health. This has been great.
Isn’t Nicole just so inspiring? It probably goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. I can’t imagine going through what Nicole has experienced. And to watch her advocacy now for Youth Mental Health through The Maddie Project is just remarkable. Nicole, you are a hero. And I thank you so much for sharing your story and your insights.
I learned a lot from Nicole from this conversation. Let me summarize 5 of those things for us now.
The first is that mental health concerns are common. Nicole shared some statistics, including that one in five kids or 20% of youth will struggle, but only 25% will get access to care for mental health care, and suicide in youth is the second leading cause of death.
So as adults, in whatever capacity (parents, extended family, friends, coaches, teachers), we need to step up.
The second main point is to highlight what Nicole identified as the main things we can do: Awareness, empathy, and advocacy. After listening to this podcast, I hope that our awareness has increased. We need to watch for signals in our children (like isolation, or an obsession with social media, or dropping grades, or a loss of interest in things that they used to enjoy), – and then step in to help. That help means two things: being empathetic and advocating for the child, be it at school or through the mental health system. Don’t wait. Just get on it.
The third point is the question of why. Nicole said that children should be able to voice mental health concerns without knowing why they’re happening. That really resonated with me. When one of my kids tell me they have a sore throat, I don’t immediately ask WHY. They know they can tell me about their physical ailments without knowing why they feel that way. The same should go if they’re feeling anxious or depressed. So make sure that the kids around you know that they can tell you how they’re feeling without explaining WHY. As Nicole says, encourage kids to put their hand up for help.
The other part of the WHY Q: we should be monitoring the youth around us and not jumping to conclusions for WHY they’re acting a certain way. When a kid acts out or misbehaves at school, the WHY is probably not because they’re a bad kid. The WHY could be stress or anxiety or depression. So give the kid a break. Again, as Nicole says, be empathetic and be an advocate.
Fourth, we should talk openly about mental health. Here’s the thing: We all have mental health, right? It’s a spectrum. We all have good days and we all have bad days. And as Nicole says, mental health is like nutrition, we should wake up and think about it every day. She encourages us to have an open dialogue about mental health at the dinner table with our kids and their friends, just making it an open conversation. Normalizing it so people aren’t ashamed of speaking about having an off day – or if they’re considering getting a therapist. That should be celebrated, not something to be ashamed of.
The fifth and last point I want to highlight is very inspiring. Nicole said that “anything we can do is goodness” – doing little things and doing big things will help and make an impact, potentially saving a life.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Maddie Project and potentially making a donation to help in the quest to raise awareness for youth mental health, I encourage you to check out the links in the shownotes so you can do that easily.
Thanks again so very much to Nicole German for sharing your story and your insights with us.
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