Working together to change the system! The Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Youth Council has created a youth version of Changing Directions, Changing Lives: The Mental Health Strategy for Canada.
Establishing the foundation for healthy emotional and social development, as well as prevention and early intervention, are all vital to ensuring the mental wellbeing of every Canadian as they progress from childhood to adulthood. Right now, an estimated 1.2 million Canadian children and youth are affected by mental illness, but less than 20 per cent will receive appropriate treatment.
The importance of early intervention
Across a lifespan, people with mental health problems and mental illness can experience an array of challenges — from family difficulties and academic problems to an increased risk for physical illness and shorter life expectancy. However, early intervention can improve quality of life and provide significant cost savings, with studies of early intervention programs in Alberta showing a minimum savings of $7.6 million. Empowering youth, educators, and health professionals with a better understanding of mental health can help alleviate the social and economic impact of some mental health problems.
The challenges of transitioning
Youth transitioning into adult mental health and addiction services is a significant area of policy concern in Canada, as current policies, programs, and research that support such transitions are scarce. Youth who are engaged in child and youth mental health services, and who require continued services, are often not well supported as they prepare to enter the adult mental health system. Transition-aged youth who disengage from mental health services are at a significantly higher risk of developing more enduring mental health problems later in life.
The MHCC’s Mental Health Strategy for Canada gives priority to increasing the capacity of families, schools, communities, and more to promote mental health and prevent mental health problems and mental illness among children and youth. The MHCC is working alongside its Advisory Council, Youth Council, Aboriginal youth, and other experts to support a variety of projects and activities in this area.
Examining the challenges of transitioning
The MHCC is determined to better understand service delivery gaps that exist in a young person’s transition to adult mental health and addiction services. For this reason, it consulted with its former Services Systems and Child and Youth Advisory Committees, Youth Council, and researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) to create the Youth Transitioning into Adult Mental Health Services Uptake and Engagement Project. The resulting paper from this project, written by the research team from CHEO, proposes recommendations to enhance and improve current services and supports.
Incorporating the youth voice
Recognizing the importance of youth representation in the mental health agenda, the MHCC consults regularly with its Youth Council to engage young people directly in project development. Made up of people aged 17–30 who have lived experience of a mental health problem or mental illness, this group provides valuable feedback on MHCC programs and strategies. The MHCC, with its Youth Council, began work on a youth friendly version of the Strategy, in which the principle of recovery is central, to best support the mental wellbeing of children and young people.
Focusing on education
The MHCC supported the School-Based Mental Health and Substance Abuse Project to determine the need for a coordinated systems approach and more trained mental health professionals in Canadian schools. Our Mental Health First Aid program also offers a course designed specifically for adults who interact with youth between the ages of 12 and 24.
There is urgent need for improved mental health promotion and illness prevention among Canada’s young people, including early intervention. By age 25, approximately 20 per cent of Canadians will have developed a mental illness. Child and youth mental health is a collective responsibility requiring the engagement of parents, educators, health professionals, and community organizations.
A balanced approach is needed
Because many youth depend upon their families as their primary source of support, incorporating the family perspective into the development of child and youth mental health services is key. A balance between a youth-centred and family-centred approach is promoted in the MHCC’s Evergreen Framework. As youth transition to adulthood, the family’s role will evolve to help foster more informed, responsible life decisions.
Schools require additional resources
Over 80 per cent of respondents to the MHCC’s School-Based Mental Health Substance Abuse Project indicated that Canadian students have unmet mental health needs. To help guide mental health policy in Canadian schools, this project recommended further investment in mental health promotion and learning, greater coordination among all provinces and territories, and an increased number of mental health professionals in schools.
Online access to services needs improvement
Self-stigma for children and youth can result in social isolation, poor self-image and denial of one’s condition. These factors can ultimately limit help-seeking. The MHCC commissioned research for online knowledge mobilization to aid healthcare providers, educators, policy makers and parents in reaching out to children and youth. This report recommends new opportunities to engage children and youth, improve access to mental health information online, as well as the development of a common language that will help to improve mental health literacy online.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) created a number of resources to support the mental health and wellness of children and youth across Canada. Click on the links below for more information.