Children's mental health experts are gathering in Charlottetown to talk about improving mental health programming in Atlantic Canada.

Margaret Barry is the keynote speaker at this years Atlantic Summer Institute Symposium on Promoting Child and Youth Mental Health in Charlottetown.

She joined CBC P.E.I.'s Compass to talk about the event and children's mental health.

'Upstream action'

One of the key messages of the symposium, Barry said, is on the positive.

"We need access to the best services we can provide, but we also need to focus on prevention and promotion," she said.

"That means how do we promote really good health and resilience for all children so that they can actually grow and achieve their maximum potential."

Part of that, Barry added, is about "upstream action" which means looking at the early signs and determinants of mental health and raising awareness of it to children at a young age.

Mental health in school curriculums

The idea behind "upstream action" is what motivated some in Atlantic Canada to ask governments to introduce mental health into school curriculums.

'You're giving them really essential skills for life.' — Margaret Barry

"I think it's a very good idea, I also think we need to bring it in earlier," she said. 

"Right from the beginning, parenting, preschool years, it's really embedding a focus on social and emotional development — making that central to parenting practice and preschool."

'Essential skills for life'

She said introducing a level of "social and emotional learning" to young children helps mental health and wellbeing among youth, and even improves academic performance in the classroom.

"You're giving them really essential skills for life."

"I think that's incredibly important … when we talk about mental health to look at mental health also in a positive way."

The three-day symposium kicks off Monday, and runs until Wednesday.

With files from CBC News: Compass