Children’s Mental Health System in Crisis, says Canadian Advocates

Beth Nowosad started feeling anxious and suffering panic attacks in Grade 8. A counsellor at her elementary school was no help. In high school “there were absolutely no resources,” and by Grade 10 she was self-harming.

Before her 18th birthday, she tried to kill herself and ended up in hospital.

“Unfortunately, the funding isn’t there” to help kids, said Nowosad, now 24, who only started getting proper treatment when she enrolled in a college program to become a child and youth worker and learned about resources in the community.

“There are so many youth that are waiting so long — there are so many — the government needs to fill the gaps.”

For children with mental health troubles, wait lists are the norm — when problems arise, they typically can’t get help for a year and a half and end up in hospital, only to be discharged to find they have to wait yet again for services in the community.

Advocates had been hoping for additional funds in the Ontario budget, released Thursday, saying $118 million is needed immediately to expand treatment and make sure it is available early on.

They say the system is in crisis, and new data to be released Monday by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), obtained by the Star, indicates the growing problem: Between 2006 and 2016, emergency department visits by children and youth seeking mental health or substance abuse help went up 63 per cent, and hospitalizations 67 per cent, while at the same time, hospital stays for all other health issues fell by almost 20 per cent.

“This data signals that our current mental health system is not working optimally and is not meeting the needs of children, youth and families in Ontario,” said Children’s Mental Health Ontario, which represents more than 100 treatment and support centres.


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