Health experts in Alberta want to give parents of children with mental health issues the tools to talk to their children about their concerns.  

That was the purpose of a public information session in Calgary on Tuesday that was attended by professionals and members of the public.

Dr. Chris Wilkes, a psychiatrist specializing in child and youth mental health, said families often need to overcome the stigma attached to mental illness.

"There is a great deal of shame and silence about mental health problems," he said.

 "You can't help them if they don't come forward and you can't help them or advise families if they don't know about it," he said.

"So it's to try and advise people that it's common but there are good treatments available and people should have a message of hope."

si-watson-_1

Candace Watson shared her experience with mental illness in the hope it would help other young people realize help is available. (CBC)

Candace Watson was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder at age 22.

"I was starting to have panic attacks, anxiety at school," she said.

Watson’s mother, Mona Cooley, said her daughter was exhibiting symptoms years earlier, but the family attributed the mood swings to the emotional turmoil many teenagers experience.  

Cooley said it is important for families to be aware of the symptoms and know that help is available.

"Navigating the system is difficult and how to get the help they need. And lots of times families need individuals who have been there, walked in their shoes, experienced it," she said.

Wilkes said there are eight new beds for adolescent mental health patients in the new South Health Campus in Calgary, including a very good outpatient service. But he said the region could still use another 20 beds.