In the coming weeks leading up to the release of the 2020 provincial budget by the Government of Ontario, Children's Mental Health Ontario's members, which provide the majority of publicly-provided child and youth mental health care in the province, and youth and family mental health advocates will be attending public meetings with Ontario government leaders and MPPs to urge them to increase investments in community child and youth mental health care.
They will remind government decision-makers that the length of time and the number of young people and their families waiting for Ontario publicly-provided child and youth mental health care is at an all-time high.
And, they will share their front-line and lived experiences about families that are in crisis and struggling at home, work and school because they are not able to access the mental health care they need.
Cindy l’Anson, the Executive Director of Woodview Mental Health and Autism Services in Brant, recently spoke about the needs in the child and youth mental health system at a local budget consultation hosted by MPP Stan Cho. Here’s what she had to say:
Woodview is the Lead Agency for the Brant service area, overseeing the planning and delivery of core mental health and addiction services to children, youth and families through three transfer payment agencies across the service area. We are 1 of 33 Lead Agencies across Ontario that make up the Lead Agency Consortium.
The lead agencies are working together with our Ministry partners to improve the entire provincial system of mental health services for children, youth and their families so that it works for them. Together, we are making progress towards this goal.
However, right now, in Ontario 28,000 children and youth under 18 are waiting as long as 2 ½ years for publicly provided mental health services. At our centre, over 300 children and youth are waiting for mental health services for up to 10 months.
One of the greatest pressures this community is serving the youth adequately. Individuals who have an urgent need for services based on acute depression and/or anxiety, including suicidal thoughts and actions can seek help at the emergency room of McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton or our local hospital in Brantford.
There has been a 78 percent increase in these urgent referrals from this time last year - that's almost double. Fortunately, this group is being served immediately. However, it also means that youth waiting for other mental health services are waiting much longer because available resources are being used to address acute situations. There are simply not enough resources to go around.
Seventy percent of mental health disorders present before the age of 17. Therefore, for the best health outcomes, early mental health care intervention should be provided. Earlier intervention is needed so that youth do not languish on waitlists with their mental health deteriorating as they wait. With nowhere to turn because of long waitlists or a shortage of services, many children and youth are forced in desperation and crisis to seek mental health treatment at hospital emergency rooms.
We see first-hand the impact of untreated or under-treated mental illness on children and families. The impact is devastating. 1 in 4 parents have lost time at work to care for a child with anxiety. Furthermore, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people.
In this provincial budget, we have an opportunity to end the crisis in child and youth mental health and save money for the government. An investment of $150 million annually will end the wait, help 30,000 more families across Ontario, and generate up to $260 million in savings in hospital spending.
At the same time, the child and youth mental health sector is committed to improving quality, making it easier to find services, and improving efficiency.
Our kids are our future, and our families can’t afford to wait any longer.