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Is Ontario’s Mental Health System Letting down our Youth?

Seventeen-year-old Toby Green was a grade 12 student contemplating which university he’d likely attend in the fall. He had just completed the third term, and with an 87 per cent average, had been accepted to three excellent universities. Like many of his peers, he’d navigated the application process, paid visits to the campuses, and he now faced some hard choices. Which school would be the best fit for him, and which programs would be the most interesting?

Suddenly Toby hit a wall. The thought of facing another day in the classroom became intolerable. He stopped going to class, stopped handing in assignments, and spent much of his time on the computer or listening to music. His parents thought he was burnt out and that the imminent March Break would give him the time he needed to rejuvenate. They were wrong.

After the break, Toby became even more depressed and agitated.  His mother brought him to the doctor and he openly expressed his anxiety about not being able to get his schoolwork done. He was ‘stuck,’ he kept saying. The doctor suggested a psychiatric assessment at Sunnybrook Hospital – “One of the best youth psychiatry departments in Canada,” she said. But it would take at least six months to get an appointment. Toby’s mother knew they couldn’t wait that long; the alternative?  A private assessment. After some research, a psychotherapist was recommended.

His family soon learned that Toby’s mental health crisis was mirrored by a national mental health care crisis, with Canadian youth being the most vulnerable. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “Youth are among the highest risk populations for suicide. In Canada, suicide accounts for 24 per cent of all deaths among 15-24 yearolds and 16 per cent among 16-44 year olds. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Canadians between the ages of 10 and 24.” Most of these young people come from a supposedly low risk background – educated and supportive parents and relatively well off. What happened?

How does a teen like Toby, who is struggling with his own mental health problems, process such news? He doesn’t need to know the people personally to know their story. Social media does not keep secrets. Can he hang on, or will he follow the example of others? Toby says he wants help. He is willing to do anything to get out of his mental anguish, but is the system really equipped to give him the support he needs? Toby’s journey through Ontario’s Mental Health System is only just beginning.

By Carla Sandrin

16 Responses to Is Ontario’s Mental Health System Letting down our Youth?

  1. Jean Koziak

    January 25, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    Excellent article by Carla Sandrin. Contains much food for thought. If anyone reading this article finds that it reflects a similar situation they are dealing with, another resource is CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) They are fully affiliated with the University of Toronto and have many excellent programs for those experiencing mental health issues. .

    .

  2. Sylvia Bethlenfalvy

    January 25, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    This sounds like a very difficult situation for the family. It would be good to know what resources are available for Toby…

  3. Beth Pollock

    January 25, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    A thoughtful examination of a serious problem impacting young people. The more we talk about mental health issues and the less stigmatized they become, the sooner people like Toby will be able to find the help they need.

  4. Allyson Rowley

    January 26, 2014 at 2:07 am

    Thoughtful article on an important topic.

  5. Lenore Eng

    January 26, 2014 at 2:23 am

    This similar problem is faced by many families. Please provide a followup on how Toby deals with this and the support of his family.

  6. Marg McFadyen

    January 26, 2014 at 11:23 pm

    This is a real problem for many teens and young adults. My daughter’s classmate committed suicide last year at age 16. Such a tragedy. Excellent article Carla.

  7. Donna McCorquodale

    January 27, 2014 at 1:53 am

    The mental health system in Canada is no system at all. The most one can hope for is that the patient is ready and willing to participate in any help that is available. That is not saying much. Especially when there is a six month wait for anything. Once you get a psychiatric referral, you can try repeatedly calling back to get a cancelled appointment. (There are lots of those, as you can imagine, but the patient is usually charged anyway, so there is no urgency on the doctor’s part to fill the cancellation.) What we were repeatedly told was, “He has to hit rock bottom first. No help is available until then. What that means is something very awful.”
    Your family doctor is a godsend at this time, but beware to various medications that might be offered. Some can actually work in reverse and worsen the patient’s condition. ie. antidepressants can trigger bipolar disorder.

    CAMH is not readily available to the average person. I get very tired of hearing them touted. They are busy with extreme, extreme cases and have no time for anything less. There is a mobile Crisis Centre in the phone book and I did get a good tip from them. They recommended me to FAME. If you haven’t contacted Mary at FAME (check online) in Etobicoke, do it now.

  8. jan mcclelland

    January 27, 2014 at 2:10 am

    Great article Carla. It’s hard to believe a young person with such bright prospects can get so paralyzed by depression. It is alarming the number of families dealing with this situation. I think it is so important that the stigma is slowly being diminished by articles like this that others read and relate to and feel less alone.

  9. Alison Stuchbery Lannan

    January 27, 2014 at 1:18 pm

    A wonderful article highlighting a huge embarrassment in our health care system. This situation is not in Ontario alone, it also exists in other provinces. I look forward to reading more on the subject from Ms. Sandrin. Thank you for drawing attention to a situation that needs a lot more money and resources.

  10. Kevin Nelson

    January 27, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    Excellent acticle

  11. Ronald Crago

    January 27, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    Carla Sandrin’s captivating account of Toby and his family’s angst-filled encounter with the mental health system speaks to both those of us who “have been there” and to those who are becoming increasingly aware of the system’s immense challenges. Ms Sandrin’s poignant dialogue will contribute to keeping this important issue in the public’s awareness and eventually facilitating timely access to excellent mental health care.

  12. Karen Burrows McKnight

    January 27, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    Thanks for raising awareness! There are so many families struggling to understand the mental health issues faced by their teens and yet it is so hard to access not only the resources but also to the ‘right resources’ given the particular situation. We need to have the courage to share our stories – to educate our community – and to support our adolescents – and each other as parents – in navigating these issues. It is a daunting process that we need to make more manageable and accessible in a timely manor!

  13. Heather Winship

    January 29, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    Mental health illnesses are difficult for everyone who suffers from them; but especially so for vulnerable teens who are already navigating in the unchartered waters of growing up. Young people coping with depression and/or anxiety must feel overwhelmed, and not being able to get proper help or counselling is unacceptable. We must as a society do everything possible to ease their suffering and help them not just survive but thrive. This is a scary topic that people seem to want to avoid, but the more aware we are through articles and discussion, the better the chances of helping our teens.

  14. Ted Loewen

    January 30, 2014 at 10:44 pm

    The article serves a very useful purpose in drawing attention to the lack of support for youth suffering mental health problems and the often tragic results. Means to improve support for those with mental health issues should be investigated.

  15. Lynn Manning

    January 31, 2014 at 7:32 pm

    As Bell announces their January 28th Let’s Talk Day campaign raised $5,472,585.90 for mental health programs. let’s hope these funds will be directed where they will have the most impact. I hope that Toby finds and receives all the support he needs!

  16. Marianne Zin

    February 7, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    Great artickle Carla. i agree. Unfortunately kids are bounced back and forth for quite some time before a real diagnosis and treatment plan is made. The school system is the most ill prepared for dealing with these problems. Making matters worse they don’t want to deal with it so try to shove kids into alternative schools which frankly don’t really help them deal with real life issues. They can’t choose an employer necessarily so if they can’t cope in a “regular school” how are they going to cope in the real world. Also doctors and hospitals seem to want to hide information about programs to help kids. I’ve learned way more from parents struggling with same issue than most medical professions. Also kids with severe issues are not really taken serious even after a bad episode unless they are suicidal period. This makes them feel their problems don’t really matter

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