Youth mental health system a mess

I doubt many would describe their teenage years as easy ones. Even for those who do well with it all, the period between youth and adulthood is fraught with potential obstacles.

Figuring out our place in the social world, deciding on future plans for education or employment, leaving home and learning to function as an independent adult can be stressful at the best of times. Not to mention the biological changes taking place on top of it all.

Teens who are also experiencing a mental illness, have even more hurtles to overcome. Unfortunately, our healthcare system is not making it any easier.

According to a scathing report released this week from the BC Representative for Children and Youth, BC doesn’t even really have a youth mental health system.

The report, Still Waiting: First Hand Experiences with Youth Mental Health Services in BC, describes a confusing, frustrating and jumbled mess that leaves many mentally ill youth falling through the cracks.

Long waitlists, lack of communication or coordination between services, poor transition from youth to adult services, lack of accountability and accessibility are some of the issues making it difficult for teens and their families to get appropriate care.

I have addressed the problem of waitlists in general for mental health – when it comes to youth, 40 percent of physicians identified a wait time of at least six months just for an initial psychiatric assessment. That is simply unacceptable at any age, and particularly at such a critical time in a person’s development.

As a result of this difficulty with access, most youth are visiting the ER with their mental health problems and BC only has 67 emergency, acute and treatment beds for youth with mental illness.

Only 6 percent of the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s budget goes toward mental health.

When it’s time for an individual to transition from youth services to adult services, this should be a seamless process requiring little of the individual in order for a continuation of care to occur. Right now, this simply isn’t happening and there seems to be little coordination between the different services. Families who are already experiencing stress are often left to navigate the bureaucracy on their own.

This report was based on feedback from hundreds of mental-health practitioners, physicians, parents and youth from across the province. It focused on teens between the ages of 16 and 19.

The only recommendation coming out of the report is to create a Minister of State for Youth Mental Health – who would provide leadership and accountability across ministries and services.

I think this is a good place to start but wonder what else could be done to make youth mental health services better for our young people. In Kelowna the situation is terrible. There is virtually no communication between the various groups involved, the waiting lists are a joke and patients ending up in hospital are dealt with in a haphazard manner with inadequate assessment and discharge to the community with no follow-up plan. Families are often not adequately informed about assessment results or discharge plans and referring physicians are not included in the assessment or discharge planning.

What is needed is local leadership to bring together the various professionals and come up with protocols that result in communication, smooth transition from one treatment resource to another without a waiting list and above all open and transparent communication with family members. None of this would require a Minister of State for Youth Mental Health unless the local parties are so dysfunctional that a complete reassignment of responsibilities is required.


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