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Our Youth Are Demanding (And Deserve) Mental Health Care

Written by

Caralyn Quan, Program Manager, The New Mentality

Kim Moran, CEO, Children’s Mental Health Ontario

Please Note: If you, your child or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please call 9-1-1 or head to your nearest emergency department. If you would like to find a child and youth community mental health centre near you, please click here

There have been some difficult headlines surfacing in the media over the last week regarding the mental health supports available to youth and young people. Some of them, such as those surrounding recent protests by  U of T students following several suicides on campus, are happening in our own province. Headlines like these show that our students are right to demand more mental health services because there is an appalling lack of them for children and youth up to 25.  For years, we have been sounding the alarm to the Government of Ontario about the crisis in accessing child and youth mental health care and the impact of never-ending wait times for treatment on education, in emergency rooms, at home.

Recent research from Ipsos Public Affairs reported that 62 per cent of youth are concerned about their levels of anxiety, four in 10 youth have sought mental health services and nearly half of these were not able to get the help they needed.  CMHO has reported wait times for mental health services for youth of sometimes up to 24 months. This is simply unacceptable.

We also know that youth aged 12 to 25 are increasingly seeking treatment in hospitals because they cannot access treatment in their communities. Emergency department visits for children and youth with mental health disorders and addictions has risen by 72 per cent and hospitalizations by 79 per cent in Ontario – rates higher than the national average. This shows that there is significant need for mental health services for this age group. There have also been countless reports released by provincially appointed mental health advisory councils, the Mental Health Commission of Canada, Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO), the Auditor General of Ontario, to name a few, which all call for investment in mental health prevention and early intervention community-based services, especially for youth.

Of course, the impact of mental health issues goes beyond the youth themselves but is also borne by Ontario families. Children’s Mental Health Ontario recently released new research, with the U of T, that found parents missing work to care for a child with anxiety issues is costing the Ontario economy $421 million a year in absenteeism.

Youth deserve – and are demanding – publicly funded mental health services. And, there are solutions.  CMHO has provided the Ontario government with a plan to meet the increased demand and long wait times.  There are almost 100 accredited and publicly-funded community child and youth mental health centres providing treatment and supports to children, youth and families across the province. These child and youth mental health centres provide walk-in clinics, prevention, early intervention, counselling and therapy, and intensive services for children and youth with complex mental health issues. But there is a funding shortfall to these centres.  Funding has fallen by over 50% over the past 25 years at a time when demand is exploding.

Immediate investments would enable child and youth mental health centres to shorten wait times to 30 days or less for counselling and therapy, scale up crisis support services so children and youth don’t have to go to the hospital, as well as expand specialized services for our kids and young people with the most serious and complex needs. These expanded services can be located near or on campus, as well as schools and hospitals to help ensure clients can promptly access these vital interventions and treatments.

And the return on these investments will be huge. Emergency department visits and hospital admissions will fall – saving a potential $1 billion in Ontario over 5 years. High quality treatment will be available quickly and accessibly. Most importantly, we will improve outcomes for children and youth and save lives. As the recent tragedies at U of T have shown, our kids can’t wait.


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