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Not enough being done to treat youth with mental illness: experts

Not enough being done to treat youth with mental illness: experts

Not enough being done to treat youth with mental illness: experts

Published on 21 May 2015 Publications by Senator Art Eggleton (retired)

The current approach to mental health in Canada also places an unnecessary burden on public finances. Jennifer Vornbrock of the Canadian Mental Health Commission stated that the dollar cost of untreated mental illness in Canada is $51-billion a year, a number which could rise to $300-billion in the next 20 years.

Seventy per cent of all mental illnesses can be diagnosed before the age of 25, yet not enough is being done to recognize and treat young Canadians with mental health problems, said experts who appeared before the Senate Liberal Open Caucus on May 13.

It is now possible to intervene early on into the life of a child, to diagnose them and improve their outcome, but this knowledge has yet to be effectively put into practice, said Dalhousie University’s Stan Kutcher. Compounding the issue is that in most cases intervention is only offered long after an individual begins to display signs of a mental illness.

The current approach to mental health in Canada also places an unnecessary burden on public finances. Jennifer Vornbrock of the Canadian Mental Health Commission stated that the dollar cost of untreated mental illness in Canada is $51-billion a year, a number which could rise to $300-billion in the next 20 years.

To address this crisis, more needs to be done to ensure that the resources are there for parents, teachers and healthcare providers to identify or treat a young person with a mental illness. Dianne Walchuck, president of the Canadian Teachers Federation, stated that in a 2014 survey of more than 5,000 teachers, 95 per cent of respondents said that that the government needs to pay more attention to child and youth mental health. “It can be difficult,” Walchuck said, “trying to find the resources in the community from the health care system that you need to work with the student.” Currently, an individual suffering from a mental illness can face a wait time of up to six months for public care.

Some panelists felt that there is still too wide a chasm between what research into mental illness has proven is effective and what is actually being practiced on a societal scale here in Canada. Louise Logue, Ontario Justice of the Peace, pointed to a project by the RCMP in the Maritimes where an evidence-based approach to dealing with youth suffering from a mental illness has yielded positive results. This approach “contributed to reducing youth crime by 30 per cent in the first two years, a further 12 per cent reduction in year three, and a further 19 per cent reduction in year four,” Logue said. “This translates to a huge reduction in court costs to the taxpayers when we average the cost of incarcerating one youth to approximately $125,000 annually.”

Ideally, a youth showing signs of mental illness would be recognized and treated well before law enforcement becomes involved. For Kutcher, the first line of defence should be the individual’s primary health care provider, often a family doctor. However, most doctors are not efficiently equipped to service the amount of mental illnesses they see almost every day. “One of my sons in is a family practice resident,” Kutcher said. “He has one week of a child psychiatry training program in his residency, and yet 40 to 60 per cent of kids that they see have mental disorders.”

Vornbock said that there needs to be a serious conversation between the federal government, the provinces and the territories about the focus of healthcare in Canada if there is to be any improvement in treating mental health disorders. “You can make an easy argument for investing in children and youth, but the system … is weighted towards the seniors,” she stated. “We have to have a pretty honest conversation with ourselves as Canadians about where we want to make our investment going forward in our healthcare system.”

The Senate Liberal Caucus will meet again on May 27 to discuss how to best balance security needs with human rights in Canada.

Liberal Ontario Senator Art Eggleton co-chairs the Senate Liberal Open Caucus meetings.