Untreated mental health issues in children a growing concern

Jan 27, 2014 | News


By Alexis MacDonald

Children with mental illnesses are experiencing extended wait times for professional treatment in Canada.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, only one in four kids and teens in Canada who need mental health treatment are receiving it.

If the illness is not addressed in a timely manner the effects can be detrimental to a child.

“Children and adolescents, their brain development is quite rapid compared to adults,” said Lin Fang, a professor of children and adolescent mental health at the University of Toronto. “When people receive early interventions, they have much better outcomes than people who receive services later on.”

Time can make all the difference for a child suffering with a mental illness, said Sarah Boyle, a support worker for Community Living Toronto.

“The sooner you get in there the better,” she said. “A child [with immediate attention] will do better than a child whose left to wait for a year.”

Boyle says the effects of an untreated mental illness can interfere with a child’s everyday life.

“They may experience changes in appetite and sleep patterns that can affect their performance in school and day-to-day functioning with social aspects,” said Boyle.

Although children and their families are facing delays in getting treatment, there are other places they can go to receive care in the meantime.

“In Toronto, there are a number of different access points,” said Ewa Deszynski, executive director at the Etobicoke Children’s Centre. “One of the recent ones that’s very effective is a walk-in counselling service.”

Fang recommends that children and families find a support worker or counsellor while they wait to see a doctor. There are a lot of support groups and literature available for families and children who are working through mental illnesses.

Many are pushing for the government to provide more funding for children’s health care in Ontario.

Places like Australia already spend $1,000 per child to cover eight sessions with a therapist as soon as mental health problems are identified.

Deszynski said spending money on children’s mental health care is very much needed.

“Most children’s mental health centres in Ontario are not attached to the Ontario medical plan,” said Deszynski.“Physical health issues are very clear and very apparent but children’s mental health is not always apparent. There is still a lot of stigma attached with mental health. It requires some consultation or assessment to determine the source of the problem.”

Boyle said raising awareness for children’s mental health will aid the cause for quicker access.

“It really comes down to advocating,” said Boyle. “The more you advocate, the quicker you see results, and you are going to have your issues addressed by whoever it is who is in charge of your care.”

Tomorrow is Bell Let’s Talk Day. The day raises money and awareness for mental health in Canada. Individuals can get involved by texting, calling, facebooking and tweeting #bellletstalk.