Making Mental Health a Priority

mental health

CHEO is seeing unprecedented demand for its mental health services. In fact, we’ve seen a 50 percent increase in children and youth visiting our Emergency department for mental health crisis in just the last two years alone. In tandem with these increases in Emergency department visits, since 2007, CHEO has experienced an increase of 146 percent in mental health admissions from the Emergency department.

On one hand, perhaps this can be viewed as good news because it shows that more families are seeking help. On the other hand, there is no question that this flags a very real and very big need in our community. And given the limited resources both at CHEO and in the community, we have concerns that the kids in our community may not be getting the help they need.

While CHEO is able to see the most urgent cases in our out-patient clinics fairly quickly, wait times for others has increased from 2 to 3 months, to 6 to 12 months. This is largely due to the 60 percent increase in outpatient referrals CHEO has received between 2010 to 2011. For a child, youth or parent this wait seems like a lifetime.

It isn’t just the volume of cases going up, but the seriousness and complexity of them as well. Our in-patient beds have been operating at maximum capacity almost the full year, and depression and anxiety disorders present in 72 percent of all crisis admissions.

The need has never been more urgent for investment in child and youth mental health and reform of the system – nor the timing been more right. But we are very optimistic that things are about to change. Community partners, politicians, and representatives from the ministry have been more engaged in the discussion of mental health than we have ever seen in our almost 40-year history. We are hopeful that there will be investment and change that will have a positive, lasting impact for the families in our community. Physicians, psychiatrists, psychologist, counsellors, nurses and social workers are going “above & beyond” to try to help more kids then ever before.

Solutions have included a partnership between CHEO and The Royal to operate the Specialized Psychiatric and Mental Health Service for Children and Youth (CY-SPMHS). We are also collaborating with our funders, the Champlain LHIN and the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS), as well as community-based service providers to explore avenues for short term and longer term solutions to this mental health crisis. As such, we are identifying gaps in services, developing proposals to address unmet needs and looking for efficiencies in our services.

One new initiative is The Youth Transition Project, an 18-month pilot project funded by the Champlain LHIN. This is a new shared care model of care for young clients struggling with health-care transitions and is aimed at youths aged 16 to 24 with complex mental health conditions. These youths often find it difficult to transition between children's and adult services, and frequently they become disengaged from the mental health system as it does not meet their unique needs. The pilot project has brought together mental health professionals from children's and adult mental health services to develop new pathways intended to create a smooth transition to adult mental health services. It is anticipated that 100 youth will work together with a coordinator to transition to adult mental health services.

In response to significant distress in our community related to youth suicides, CHEO has been actively involved in organizing information sessions for parents and service providers. "Let’s talk about suicide, depression and bullying" was presented in Ottawa and Renfrew. The two hour event featured a Q&A session with a panel of experts focusing on warning signs, practical tips and “how to” talk to your teen. CHEO is also participating in Ottawa’s Community Suicide Prevention Network which brings families, service providers and funders to the table to ensure co-ordination of our efforts in this regard.

In order to better meet the needs of youth, parents and caregivers seeking guidance and information on CHEO’s mental health services as well as other mental health services offered in the community, CHEO has initiated a process to revise the mental health section of its website. Our plan is to provide evidence based information about mental health topics of relevance for children youth and their families and highlight our existing programs and the mental health expertise at CHEO.