Awareness and resources needed to address youth mental health

The world can be a difficult place for youth these days. With the advent of social media and an oversaturation of mature content, they’re having to grow up quickly and deal with situations many don’t have the capacity to handle.

It’s not surprising then that mental health and anxiety concerns are becoming more commonplace for youth. In a study released this week, Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO) half of parents reported having concerns about their children’s anxiety and nearly two-thirds of the youth surveyed had concerns themselves, whether they spoke to a friend or sought professional help.

The disappointing thing is that many of these young people don’t seem to know where to turn to get help — or, when they do go searching for that help, they aren’t finding it in a timely manner. Nearly 40 per cent of parents who sought help said they faced challenges. While a minority of youth sought mental health services for themselves, nearly half of those young people reported they couldn’t find the services they need, they didn’t know where to go, or they faced long wait times. In rural areas, more people reported having concerns.

It doesn’t appear mental health is a problem that is going to go away, so there must be strategies put in place to help youth understand their issues, eliminate the ones they can, and live through those they can’t.

Promoting awareness and openness must be the first of these strategies. The more young people learn that mental illness isn’t something wrong or to be stigmatized, the more likely they’ll be to seek help. Initiatives like Kids Help Phone and the Bell Let’s Talk Day have helped in that regard. The school system also seems to be making strides to educate about mental and emotional health and create a culture of understanding. Efforts to discourage practices that may have a negative impact, such as bullying, are also welcomed.

Building upon that, there must be access to health care and resources to support young people dealing with mental health and anxiety issues or crises. Money spent on frontline counsellors and specialists is likely money that won’t have to be spent on providing acute care in hospitals (and emergency visits and hospitalization related to childhood mental health are rising according to, managing people working through the justice system, or making up for lost production in the workforce. In some areas of rural eastern Ontario, the waiting list to get into see a psychiatrist for an initial consult is well in excess of six months. A lot can happen in that time frame that could have been addressed.

Whether by government or private funding, there should be a push in Ontario to ensure that new technology is used to bridge gaps in service and give every young person the same chance to receive help. Properly staffed telehealth systems could allow young people to see doctors sooner and eliminate the difficulty of having to travel great distances to get help — likely a deterrent to many families.

Each generation looks to its predecessor to provide what is necessarity for growth and prosperity. The current generation has made many improvements on mental health, but it is still failing those in need of help. It’s time to fix that.