Canada is currently experiencing a mental health crisis among its youth population which includes high rates of mental illness, suicide and delays in accessing services. Young people aged 15-24 are more likely to experience mental health crises than any other age group. These issues are being exacerbated by COVID-19 and reform of the mental health system is critical as we continue to move through and emerge on the other side of the pandemic.
Funding for youth mental health initiatives is important as it’s reported that 70% of adults with mental health issues develop symptoms in adolescence. Prevention and early intervention is key in managing the progression of mental health concerns and in supporting youth as they move into adulthood.
Affordability is an issue within the mental health system and youth in lower socioeconomic groups are three to four times more likely to report poor mental health. Some agencies offer free psychological support, but wait times can be long. Privatized psychological care is expensive and is not accessible to youth living in lower socioeconomic demographics. Affordability is also a barrier to youth who may be
trying to access services without a parent or guardian’s support.
Service providers should be using evidence-based modalities with youth and should be offering virtual or tele-services to underserved youth. COVID-19 has highlighted the feasibility of online services which can offer a farther reach than standard, in-person options. The new opportunities that are available with virtual services need to be met with an investment in research and clinical guidance to ensure that the programming is within the current best practice standards.
Mental health services within schools are not able to meet the demand and tend to focus on academic issues. More research and youth engagement is required to properly service the mental health needs of youth in schools.
Holistic models of mental health care are emerging and center around the severity of a person’s illness and the stage of development they may be in. Services in emerging models are holistic in that they include in-person, virtual and outreach care, and also extend into early adulthood to ensure a smooth transition to adult services. Youth engagement should be used in the development and evaluation of
mental health services – it provides opportunities for youth empowerment and can offer vital insights and benefits for individuals, organizations and communities.
The Saskatchewan Alliance for Youth and Community Well-Being offers free mental health toolkits that can be accessed online at https://saycw.com/resources/toolkits/. Topics of the toolkits range from mental health and substance use to culture, sexual identity and general wellbeing.