The Spectator’s View: Our youth need help. We need to do better

An apparent spike in mental health issues in teens in Hamilton is an alarming problem, one that not only threatens the lives of our youth, but the future prosperity of our city.

As The Spectator’s Joanna Frketich reported, police calls for teens with mental health issues are rapidly rising, with police now responding to more than one mental health crisis a day in kids aged 12 to 17.

Keep in mind that police are typically the last line of defence, so in most cases, police would be called in when a child is in such desperate need of help that no other intervention has been effective. In short, the child is at the end of his or her rope.

Police report that youth in crisis calls are up to about 40 a month in 2016 compared with just over 23 monthly in 2015, 21 in 2014 and 14 in 2013. This is in contrast to youth crime, which was down for the sixth consecutive year. They also noted that a city-wide youth committee identified mental health as its No. 1 area of concern.

And consider these statistics from the Canadian Mental Health Association:

• As many as one in five Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder.

• Canada’s youth suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world. It is among the leading causes of death in 15 to 24 year-olds, second only to accidents.

• Then there is this, possibly the most shocking statistic of them all: In Canada, only one out of five children who need mental health services receives them.

There are some supports available in Hamilton: For example, McMaster has a Child and Youth Mental Health Program, St. Joseph’s Healthcare opened a youth wellness centre in 2015 and the police implemented a mobile crisis rapid response team in addition to the Crisis Outreach and Support Team. And last month, the province gave three agencies $214,000 in funding for youth mental health.

The money will be shared between Good Shepherd Hamilton, which helps as many as 500 young people a month, the francophone Centre de Santé Communautaire and Thrive Child and Youth Trauma Services, which will help provide trauma counselling for the recent influx of Syrian refugees.

But the statistics and police calls are a clear indication we need to do more — more to figure out the causes, more to help kids deal with the stresses of everyday life, more to help identify problems before they reach crisis proportions, and more to help the kids with mental health issues get timely and effective care.

This is a heartbreakingly serious problem. It cannot be solved by any one group — it is a crisis that involves a great collaboration between the health care, education, social and emergency service agencies. It needs to be dealt with quickly and aggressively. If we can’t fix this, no one else will.
Cheryl Stepan

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