Urgent and immediate action required on youth mental health

This editorial appeared in the May 4, 2016 edition of the Interior News. You can download the pdf here.

Statistics indicate 20 per cent of British Columbians will personally experience mental illness in their lifetime. In many cases there can be devastating consequences to the individual, their families, friends and society-at-large.

Early detection and treatment when warning signs are exhibited in children and youth are well known to alleviate further symptoms during adulthood. Yet in B.C. services are not sufficient, especially in rural and northern areas, and coordination is lacking.

These were some of the findings contained in the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth’s final report Concrete Actions for Systemic Change, released in January, on youth mental health services. The bipartisan committee, of which I’m deputy chair, is made up of six BC Liberal and four BC NDP MLAs and spent two years studying the matter, hearing testimony and receiving submissions from families, youth, advocacy groups, health experts, academics and senior ministry staff.

Despite the bipartisan endorsement of the report’s recommendations, and the call for urgent and immediate action, there was no increase for children and youth mental health services in the Ministry of Children and Family Development’s budget for this coming year. In fact, after accounting for inflationary pressures, it lost ground. 

A couple of significant recommendations from the report relate to service and coordination. One, that children, youth and young adults identified as exhibiting signs of behavioural, emotional or mental health issues are assessed within 30 days and begin receiving treatment within the next 30 days. Two, that a ‘one child, one file’ approach be instituted to address barriers to information sharing among caregivers.

The 30 day – 30 day recommendation reflects that delays in treatment and wait lists are significant and service gaps exist. It’s hard to imagine that waiting almost two months is acceptable for a young person in need, but that would be an improvement over what is happening now in B.C. ‘One child, one file’ is a call to reduce legal barriers to information sharing by professionals caring for children and youth (i.e. teachers and school counsellors, doctors, psychiatrists) which is frequently cited as an impediment to providing effective, co-ordinated services.

It’s time for this government to demonstrate concrete action and urgency by immediately implementing at least these two recommendations that could mean a world of difference for young people and their families facing mental health issues.

– Doug Donaldson is the MLA for Stikine and the Opposition Spokesperson for Children and Family Development.