Funds urgently needed for mental health – Opinion/letters – Funds urgently needed for mental health
November 17, 2008

Re:Probe links youth violence to mental health neglect, Nov. 14

The “Roots of Youth Violence” report by Alvin Curling and Roy McMurtry identified untreated mental health problems as key to solving the problem of youth violence in our community. We are fortunate in Ontario to already have in place a children’s mental health system devoted to eradicating this problem. In Ontario we have more than 75 children’s mental health centres specializing in different age groups – a virtual army of professionals, well-trained in evidence-based treatments to address the issues of pertinent mental health problems. What we desperately need is more funding so that this treatment can be delivered to more children in need.

Research has shown that adolescents and young adults who engage in criminal behaviour are often identified as early as kindergarten, and that early intervention in young children can prevent anti-social behaviour in older youth.

Dr. Robin Alter, registered clinical psychologist, Toronto

Another report? People who work in children’s mental health have been screaming for help for years. Most kids who are violent end up in the court system because parents can’t get any help from mental health services because wait lists are so long. Stephen Harper’s plan to lock up all youth who commit crime will not address underlying issues and most teens come out of detention facilities worse off and still struggling to get help.

To say now that money needs to be spent on adolescent mental health is a crime in itself. Community agencies and other mental health organizations have been pleading with governments for more resources and funding, but as we all know, corporate bailouts in the hundreds of millions are justified while the care and livelihood of our children is not.

Hopefully, the government will step up to the plate and seriously address mental health issues in children and adolescents in order to prevent violence.

Kate Mitchell, social worker, child and adolescent crisis team, Toronto

We do not need a tougher crime agenda as has been proposed by the federal Conservatives, especially when it comes to young offenders. Instead, the growing youth violence in Ontario must be dealt with through community mental health programming and early intervention. According to the Centre for Children Committing Offences, there are approximately 33,000 children with conduct disorder (psychiatric category commonly associated with physical and verbal aggression, destructive behaviour and stealing) in Toronto, many of whom remain untreated.

The long-awaited investigation into youth violence in Ontario has resulted in a report recommending early interventions to improve mental health care for youth crime prevention. This is a necessary move forward.

Kirsten Donovan, Toronto

The trauma of raising kids an ocean away, Nov. 15

The Curling/McMurtry report on youth violence discusses in some detail the immigrant experience for youth and the “baggage” that results from arriving in Canada without adequate settlement and adjustment services geared to youth.

Imagine the weight of that baggage when the adolescent immigrant arrives in Canada after spending his full life with grandparents or aunts and uncles. Social worker Debbie Wang notes that “eventually, children … accept their grandparents as the primary caregivers. But just when that bond is strengthening, it is time for the child to go back to Canada to their parents. It’s an emotional yo-yo for the child …”

Many adolescents are sent to Canada by aging grandparents or relatives who decide it is time for the parent(s) in Canada to cope with the normal challenges of raising a teenager. So the adolescent arrives here often to live with a single parent they barely know, someone who may have a new life and may resent the intrusion into their established space and routine.

Is it any wonder, when the toxic effects of proxy parenting, racism, poverty and inadequate immigrant settlement services are crammed into the backpack, that the “baggage” is too heavy a burden for many young people to bear?

Settlement counsellor Wendy Zhan says it as simply as it can be stated: “It is crucial that children stay with their parents in the formative years.”

Bruce Schwartzentruber, Toronto

The growth in youth violence, I believe, can in part be attributed to growing alienation between material and moral progress in today’s world. If anything, this new economy has succeeded in breaking apart units of collectivity – family, community, school, church – in its effort to create, in every individual, a pre-programmed “consumer.”

In its effort to advance itself, western society has lost touch with those moral values upon which certain civilizations were founded. It is easy to get lost in today’s world. It is becoming an increasingly lonelier place to live, not to mention more expensive than ever, as the ever-widening gap between have and have-not continues to scar our collective soul with its jagged edges.

James A. Papastamos, Hamilton

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