For the first time in its 31 years, the annual Teddy Bears' Picnic will feature a tent specifically designed to discuss mental health later this month.
Organizers say it's both a powerful tool for combating stigma and a way to pass along useful information about managing one of the most common mental health issues people can experience, anxiety.
"This is a big step for us this year," said Scott MacDonald, activities co-chair with Teddy Bears' Picnic.
The annual, family-friendly event aims to make hospitals less intimidating for kids while also raising money for Winnipeg's Children's Hospital.
"Teddy Bear Picnic was started 30 years ago to show kids that the hospital is a fun place to visit and be," MacDonald said.
And now, with more and more people seeking medical help for mental illnesses, he said it's time to reflect that at the picnic.
The Worry Bear tent will provide kids with a chance to learn about how to care for their bears when they are experiencing anxiety, said Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman, a clinical psychologist and organizer behind the new tent.
Abdulrehman said kids often internalize important information using their toys and stuffies can be a great teaching tool.
The tent will also provide information to parents about child mental health and strategies on how to talk to their kids when they are overcome with feelings of worry.
"Generally speaking we have good public knowledge about our physical health so if any of us have a cold most of us know what to do," Abdulrehman said. "But if we have anxiety or we have a panic attack we really have no idea what to do."
About 70 per cent of adult mental health difficulties start in childhood, he said, and one in four adults have anxiety problems.
"Not everyone needs full-on treatment but having the information about what to do with simple anxiety can help prevent bigger things down the road," Abdulrehman said.
While most of the activity inside The Worry Bear Tent will centre around group discussions, psychologists will be also be on hand in case anyone needs a one-on-one consultation, he said.
The annual Teddy Bears' Picnic takes place at Assiniboine Park May 28, 2017 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.