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Mental health: Kids with serious mental illness waiting months

By Jane Sims, The London Free Press

When Kim Moran’s daughter began to be sad, she was told to wait.

When the sadness became depression, she was told to wait.

When she became suicidal, she was admitted to hospital.

That, says Moran, who heads an umbrella group for child and youth services across Ontario, is a woefully insufficient response to children in need.

“It doesn’t make sense to me. My kid had a life-threatening illness. Suicide is a life-threatening illness. Depression is a life-threatening illness,” said Moran, chief executive of Children’s Mental Health Ontario.

“Can you imagine if she was diagnosed with Stage 1 cancer,” Moran said, “and then they said, ‘Listen, don’t you worry about that. We’re going to wait until it’s Stage 4, then we’ll get back to you’?”

In London, children with mental illnesses can be on waiting lists for up to seven months for long-term counselling, Moran said.

Bad as that is, that’s only half as long as in the Ottawa area where the waits stretch to 18 months.

Moran said the wait shouldn’t be any longer than 30 days.

Her organization wants the province to boost funding and make children’s mental health services a priority for more than 12,000 children and youth, some as young as six years old, waiting for long-term psychotherapy.

The group surveyed more than 85 children’s mental health centres on wait times for long-term counselling and intensive therapy. The half that took part reported waits ranging from three to 18 months.

It’s expected the findings will be similar to what’s in the Ontario auditor-general’s annual report scheduled to be released Wednesday.

Moran was in London Tuesday to meet with lead agencies, including Vanier Children’s Services, Merrymount and the Children’s Aid Society of London and Middlesex “to talk about optimizing services for children and youth.”

Her concern is that children who need help aren’t getting it right away and deteriorate quickly while waiting, when the solutions only take funding and a commitment to early interventions.

Moran, an accountant, said to properly fund services and cut the waiting list to a month would cost the province $118 million, about $5 for everyone in the province.

“For many childhood health issues you may not know what to do, but here we absolutely know what to do,” she said.

Moran added consequences of long wait times are obvious in the youth criminal justice system, child welfare agencies and schools.

Two weeks ago, citing an increase of violence in classrooms, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario called for more support for children with serious behavioural issues, including increased funding for children’s mental health.

Moran pointed to federal Health Minister Jane Philpott’s recent statement that mental health issues in children and youth are “a significant issue in the country.”

Suicide rates among children and youth in Canada are the third highest in industrialized countries and the second leading cause of death, statistics Moran calls “appalling.”

“We can draw an almost direct line to kids not getting the treatment they need when they need it,” she said.

Alicia Ali, a spokesperson for Michael Coteau, the Ontario minister for child and youth services, said more than $444 million a year has been invested in child and youth mental health services. Another $99 million will be invested through the province’s mental health and addictions strategy.

Another $3.4 million was announced last week to support the Kids Help Phone to help young people connect with mental health services.

jsims@postmedia.com

twitter.com/JaneatLFPress

Wait times for children’s mental health services (in days)

London: 190

Toronto: 202

Ministry statement

From Alicia Ali, press secretary for Michael Coteau, minister for children and youth services:

“We know families are frustrated with the current system. That’s why we are refreshing the current mental health system to allow young people to have faster access to supports in a more co-ordinated and meaningful way. . . . Just last week, the ministry announced $3.4 million to support Kids Help Phone’s Resources Around Me. This online tool instantly connects young people from across Ontario to mental health services close to home. We know there’s more work to be done. Our government is committed to transforming mental health supports, ensuring all young people have better access, and are best positioned for success.”