Community Counselling & Resource Centre

Waits as long as 18 months for children’s mental health

March 2nd, 2018

The need to eliminate long wait lists for children's mental health services was acknowledged at Queen's Park after pleas from Hamilton youth.

A motion calling for an end to years of chronic underfunding for community-based mental health services for kids passed Thursday after being put forward by Hamilton Mountain MPP Monique Taylor.

"Mental health services for children and youth are in crisis," Taylor said at a news conference before the motion passed. "What the government needs to understand is the urgency of the situation."

"I did not get the proper support I needed," said Tyler L., a peer support worker at Good Shepherd Notre Dame who didn't use his last name. "I was constantly going to the hospital, being put on wait lists and just giving up on that because it was going to take too long."

He was one of two peer support workers from the youth homeless shelter speaking out at the news conference with the hope of seeing the motion pass.

"Waiting ended up with me self-medicating, using street drugs which led to a long life of chronic homelessness and going in and out of institutions," said Tyler Henderson. "I can't imagine where I'd be today and what my adolescent would have looked like if I didn't go through that. You'd have to be blind not to see the level of mental health support that is needed."

Children and Youth Services Minister Michael Coteau said the province has been working to better co-ordinate mental health services in Ontario.

"We don't want young people to have to wait to get the services they need," he said during question period at Queen's Park Thursday. "They (the NDP) believe it's just about money. It's about organizing our agencies on the ground to ensure they're working together to deliver the best possible services to young people."

If elected, the NDP has promised to create Ontario's first Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions. 

"These wait times have a devastating impact on lives," said Taylor. "Lacking proper treatment, the problems inevitably get worse ... The fact is that in the absence of adequate community-based mental health services, many of those who need help end up in the wrong place."

It's significant because 70 per cent of mental health issues have their onset in childhood or adolescence. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Canadian youth.

"How sick do kids have to be before they can get help," asked Loretta Hill-Finamore, director of Good Shepherd Youth Services. "How sick do kids have to be to get off the wait list?"

She describes families with children as young as five years old struggling to access community mental health care. After years without help, some drop their now-16-year-old off at the homeless shelter.

"If their families didn't have to wait when they were five, when they were seven, when they were nine and when they were 12, and some still waiting at 19 for appropriate interventions through mental health services, they wouldn't be in a homeless shelter," said Hill-Finamore. "I feel confident about that. Families wouldn't be broken."

A 27-year-old Toronto volunteer youth advocate described at the news conference how it took her years to get help after a suicide attempt.

"When I was 13 years old, I was in a place of such darkness and sadness that I could not imagine living another day," said Alicia Raimundo. "Unfortunately for me, it would be seven years from that point until I found good solid mental health services that were willing to help me."

Raimundo says more than a dozen of her friends have killed themselves in the last decade because services weren't there when they needed them.

"All of them were on wait lists," she said. "I want to express to you how brave it is to ask for help. When a young person stands up and says, 'I need help,' we should do everything in our power to make sure that they get it — not in three years or 18 months, but at that moment."