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How many more reports and research showing that Canadian youth have poor access to mental health and addictions care will it take for government to make mental health care and addictions a funding priority?
The latest report, released just last week by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), shows again just how much children and youth are suffering and in need of more mental health supports. It reveals that Canadian young people between the ages of 15 and 19, who are struggling with mental illness and addiction, have the highest rates of suicide attempts.
We marked another World Suicide Prevention Day earlier this week. As the CEO of Children’s Mental Health Ontario, and mother to a child who has battled mental illness, it is especially astounding to me that the Ontario government is continuing to fail children, youth and families who struggle with mental health issues. Similar to the national rate, Ontario’s highest rate of suicide attempts is for youth aged 10 to 25.
I hear from families and youth across the province that Ontario children and youth can wait up to 18 months for mental health care. Sometimes, the type of care they need isn’t there at all. That’s not right.
I know from my own personal experience how hard it is to secure the right kind of mental health treatment at the right time in Ontario. My daughter became seriously mentally ill when she was just 11. We could not access the counselling and therapy she needed and within a few short months she became depressed and suicidal. Families just like ours continue to have the same experience over and over. This is a matter of life and death.
In Ontario, the government has made some recent strides towards prioritizing children and youth mental health by funding the teaching of administrators how to recognize when kids need mental health supports. It has also invested in making schools more mentally healthy.
In early 2017, it also announced it intended to invest in co-locating services in nine youth wellness hubs. All of these efforts are important, but the single biggest issue continues to be ignored: the lack of long-term counselling and therapy for children and youth.
It is important to note that 70 per cent of mental health problems have their onset during childhood or adolescence. When children and youth begin to struggle with mental health issues, they require counselling and therapy as soon as possible and close to home. This results in the best health outcome. Their families need support as well, because living with a child or youth with a mental health issue is extremely difficult and can affect family relationships, workplace attendance and one’s own physical and mental health.
The province’s largest publicly funded service provider of community mental health services for children and youth, Children’s Mental Health Ontario, can help kids who are suffering as they wait for access to treatment. We have an action plan to help ensure kids get the treatment they need when they need it. I urge the Ontario government to act.
12 September 2017