A 16-year-old from our neighborhood is in the emergency department today.  She swallowed a bottle of pills because she wanted to kill herself. Her family emigrated to this country about 20 years ago and Naomi* was born in Canada.  She has grown up with kids from her neighborhood and wants to have a life like everyone else. But her parents grew up in a really strict environment in another country and are raising their daughter like they grew up. Naomi is struggling and the constant family conflict has contributed to her becoming depressed.  She didn’t feel like anyone was listening to her.

Sam* feels angry all the time.  He thinks nobody understands him and his parents are useless. Most of his teachers just don’t get him.  He smokes marijuana every day, just to be able to handle life. His mind often races and he just can’t study. His marks are bad and he figures that nothing will come of him.  There is no point.  Sometimes he gets in trouble because his anger just boils over.  He threw a desk out of the window at school.  He was expelled and is now at another school.  His father has problems with his temper too, and sometimes it’s tough at home because he assaults Sam and his mother. 

When Sam threw the desk out of the window at school, his parents and the school agreed that he needed help with his aggressive behaviour. They talked to his doctor and he referred Sam for specialty mental health care at a child and youth mental health centre in his community. They saw Sam immediately in a walk-in clinic. Through a screening tool, Sam has been identified as having a moderate mental health issue. He needs extended counselling and his family needs therapy as well. He also needs to have a consultation with a child psychiatrist. But Sam has been waiting for treatment for six months.  He can go back to the walk-in clinic whenever he feels really angry but he sees a different therapist every time, and his dad won’t go anymore with him.  While he is waiting he is failing Grade 9 and has been in trouble with the police two more times for violence toward other kids. He damaged a locker room at school.  Sam shouldn’t have to wait.

Meanwhile, Naomi has been assessed by a child psychiatrist in hospital and he thinks she needs intensive treatment for her depression, as well as family therapy.  Naomi is in crisis and there is a significant risk that she will try to die by suicide again. A local child and youth mental health agency has been assigned to Naomi and they have made her a priority because of the risk. They have arranged for daily intensive treatment for her and immediate family therapy to reduce the tensions at home. She is meeting monthly with her doctor who will monitor medication and work with the team of social workers and psychologists at the child and youth mental health agency.

Sam was almost near the top of the wait list to get service, but because Naomi was prioritized as more urgent he is going to have to wait longer.

These are the choice that happen every day, all over the province at child and youth mental health agencies.  There is no doubt that Naomi is at great risk and needs treatment. But Sam is continuing to wait and while he waits he is failing school which will have repercussions throughout his life. His anger continues to boil over and other kids are at risk.

There should be sufficient funding to ensure that both Naomi and Sam, who have moderate to severe mental health issues get treatment. But there isn’t, and it’s not right.  If mental illness was treated the same as physical illness then Sam wouldn’t have to wait; he would have received treatment as soon as he threw the desk out of the window.


*names to protect their privacy