Children with mental illness facing long wait times for diagnosis, care
Karolyn Coorsh, CTVNews.ca
Published Sunday, January 26, 2014 10:10PM EST
Last Updated Sunday, January 26, 2014 11:37PM EST
Children suffering from mental illness are facing prolonged delays in receiving care in Canada, as demand for publicly funded treatment increases across the country.
Parents in Canada are reporting wait times of up to a year for psychiatric assessments or treatments -- a timeframe they say is possibly delaying critical help for their children.
It’s an all-too-familiar scenario for one Toronto family.
When 15-year-old Ann became severely anxious at age 11, her parents tried to get her assessed by a provincially funded psychiatrist. The wait dragged on for eight months.
Ann was eventually diagnosed with anxiety disorder, but the only advice offered to her family was to seek support in the private sector.
“In the end, you have a doctor who says, ‘Yes, you have a sick child. She needs help, and we wish you all the best with that,’” said her mother Barbara, who has asked CTV News not to identify her family’s real names.
Ann ended up in the hospital emergency room several times, suffering from severe depression.
Barbara is now re-financing the family home in order to pay for a private therapist, who she says costs more than $8,000 a year.
“At this point, it’s almost a simpler solution, to bite the bullet and make the decision so that we can proceed in a way that we know is helping our daughter,” Barbara said.
Her story is not uncommon. Surveys suggest approximately 1.2 million children in Canada are affected by mental illness, yet only one in four gets timely and appropriate care.
Mark Henick, a Toronto-based case manager with the Canadian Mental Health Association, has seen children with mental illness deteriorate to the point where they quit school, or worse, attempt suicide.
“We know that the best intervention in mental problems and mental illness is early intervention,” he said in an interview with CTV News.
Henick also said the services that are provided are often underfunded, as mental health is considered the “poor second cousin” of the health-care system, despite it having a bigger impact on the economy than all cancers combined.
To help the situation, former senator Michael Kirby wants to lobby provinces to spend $1,000 per child to cover eight sessions with a therapist as soon as mental health problems are identified.
“You attack the biggest mental health problem, which is kids not getting treated,” said Kirby, who is the founding chair of Partners for Mental Health. “It is not very expensive, so everyone would get served in a reasonable amount of time.”
It's a concept that has already taken root in such countries as Australia and the U.K., the latter of which has pledged in recent weeks to put mental health on equal footing with physical health.
Kirby said he is fuelled by heart-wrenching stories, like that of a mother who wrote a post about the struggles she’s faced trying to obtain care for her 9-year-old daughter.
Kirby also runs a related program, called Right By You, which is aimed at preventing the estimated 760 suicides among young people in Canada each year.
PTSD sufferer Jayson Pham said it’s important that teens not lose hope.
The 18-year-old said his struggle with mental illness began after he was hit by a car while crossing the street three years ago.
His problems escalated from mild depression to thoughts of hurting himself and suicide, he said.
A year later, Pham took part in a program run by the Toronto District School Board, which eventually led to more treatment.
“Don’t give up, there is always someone or somewhere (that can) help you,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to go through what I have been through in the last few years. It hurts to see someone not receiving help.”
If you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health issue, it's important to know you're not alone. If you are currently in crisis, please go to your local hospital or call 911. Youth can also reach out to Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868, or by visiting www.kidshelpphone.ca.
With a report by CTV Medical Specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip