Early Intervention Saves Lives: World Suicide Prevention Day

Annually on World Suicide Prevention Day, Children’s Mental Health Ontario works with our partners and Ontario families to raise awareness about suicide prevention, to reduce stigma around mental illness and to advocate for improved mental health care for children and youth. 

This year, CMHO is again raising its voice to call for a transformational change in Ontario. 

“Early intervention investments are needed in Ontario to reduce the increasing demand and wait for often critical child and youth mental health services,” says Kim Moran, CEO Children’s Mental Health Ontario. “We know that if mental health issues are treated early, better health outcomes are the result. We also know that 70 per cent of mental illness and addiction problems have their onset in childhood and adolescence. Unfortunately, most kids do not get the help they need until they are adults, if at all.” 


Several recent studies have shown that self-injury and suicide rates for youth in Ontario are on the rise. According to data from the Institute of Clinical Evaluative Sciences (IC/ES),  in 2003, 130 people between the ages of 10 and 24 died by suicide in Ontario. In 2015, the figure was 157. 

Data released in May 2019 from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), shows that from 2006 to 2017-18, the number of young people making emergency department (ED) visits for mental illness has increased 83% and the number who were hospitalized increased by 90%. 

Hospitalizations related to intentional self-harm increased by 102 per cent for girls aged 10 to 17 between 2009 and 2014 (four times higher than boys), CIHI data shows.  

And, a more recent study in June 2019 CHEO and University of Ottawa study, published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, shows the continuing and dramatic increase. The research looked at all the emergency department visits for self-harm or mental health concerns by Ontario adolescents (ages 13 to 17) between 2003 and 2017. On average, there are about 170,000 visits each year. Authors also found something surprising: from 2009 to 2017, the rates of adolescent self-harm visits more than doubled. Likewise, the rates of visits for mental health problems rose 78%. These increases were even greater among female adolescents. 

Demand in Ontario for child and youth mental health services has skyrocketed and is exceeding the resources and funding that has been made available to service providers.  

There are proven and effective models and innovations to help kids experiencing a mental health crisis exist in place at the nearly 100 Children’s Mental Health Ontario centres. Child and youth mental health centres offer mobile, team-based care that can meet kids and families where they are – at or near schools, and in the community. Over 70 walk-in clinics are up and running across the province, where young people can get same day access to service, no referral needed.  For about half of the children and young people who go to a walk-in clinic, one to three sessions of counselling are enough. For the remaining young people with more severe mental illness, there are models of specialized treatment that can be delivered. But we need more funding to ensure that this type of treatment is available to every kid, in every community, as soon as they need it.

Moran adds, “there needs to be more investment by government to expand counselling and therapy for moderate mental health issues as well as specialized mental health services for those who may be suicidal and require 24/7 intensive treatment. We also need to reallocate funding to prioritize early intervention and prevent urgent care visits.” 

CMHO has a plan that would help to drive better lifelong outcomes and bring desperately needed relief to families and overcrowded hospitals. Strategic investments of an additional $150 million a year will enable us to hire and train 1,400 front-line professionals to: 

  1. Ensure access to counselling and psychotherapy within 30 days and immediately to those in crisis. 
  2. Expand specialized youth mental health and addictions services to ensure that children and youth get the treatment they need  
  3. Scale 24/7 crisis support services to ensure kids and families don’t have to go to the emergency department 
  4. Increase capacity for transition-aged youth and raise the age of service in child and youth mental health care from 18 to 25 for improved care between child, youth and adult services 

Parents, youth, researchers and child and youth mental health providers have been sounding the alarm to government for years about long wait times, shortages of resources for mental health treatment and suicidal children and youth turning to hospitals in crisis.  We want to make sure that kids can access the care that they need before they are in crisis and to ensure that kids turning to hospitals in crisis aren’t sent home to wait months for the treatment they need today. Suicide is preventable if we make sure that Ontario kids and families can access the right treatment, when and where they need it. 

If your child is looking for mental health support, find your local CMHO agency here. 


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