Give more Canadian kids better access to mental health care, and save lives
TheStar.com – opinion/editorials – Michael Kirby, former Liberal senator and past chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada is pushing a campaign to prevent youth suicide.
Oct 03 2013. Editorial
Good as it is, Canada’s health system is letting down vulnerable young people. Many who suffer from mental health problems aren’t getting the help they need when they need it most. And lives are being ruined as a result.
Suicide is the leading cause of nonaccidental death for troubled young Canadians, with some 760 under the age of 24 choosing to take their own lives every year. A recent spate of high-profile tragedies related to bullying has driven this loss home. Teenagers Jamie Hubley, Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons all felt suicide was their only option.
That’s a lot of heartbreak and it’s the reason why Michael Kirby, former Liberal senator and past chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada wants Canadians to raise their voices for change.
With Partners for Mental Health, an Ottawa-based charity, Kirby is launching what he hopes will become a social movement, inspiring Canadians to speak openly about youth mental health and suicide, and to push for more preventive programs. Kirby wants Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government to invest $100 million — spread over four years — in a National Youth Suicide Prevention Fund. The money would provide immediate counselling for troubled young people, to head off problems before they become tragedies.
Some will no doubt balk at the price tag. But the cost to Canada of childhood mental health problems and illnesses is staggering, reckoned over a working lifetime. Kirby pegs it at $200 billion, extrapolating from American studies that followed families with troubled children for 40 years and estimated the losses they suffered. That includes lower educational attainment, lower earnings, time lost at work, and medical costs. That’s a lot of wasted potential and needless suffering.
Kirby’s campaign, Right By You, aims to provide timely, effective, short-term counselling and other help for tens of thousands of at-risk young people. That early intervention is precisely what many young people who are troubled and who may over time develop worse illnesses or harbour thoughts of hurting themselves need most. Clearly, the current system isn’t working: Some 1.2 million Canadian children and youth suffer from mental illness but only 25 per cent receive the proper treatment. That’s got to change. Under Kirby’s proposal, on the recommendation of a physician any child would be entitled to psychotherapy sessions (Kirby envisages up to eight, costing $1,000 in all, though some kids might need fewer) to assess problems. Those with serious illnesses would then be channelled into the wider mental health system.
This proposal would help to address Canada’s current, troubling inequality in access to mental health care. Parents who can afford to pay for private psychological therapy can get speedy help for their children, and nip problems in the bud. But less affluent families must stand in a very long line for government-funded care, unless their child is in dire straits. The wait time can be a year or longer. As Kirby says, “We know that by waiting the damage is much harder to repair.” By offering such children speedier access to care, we can save lives and pare back the longer-term costs of mental illness.
Canadians are starting to talk up these issues, given the tragedies we’ve seen. The next step is to press our elected leaders for earlier access to therapy.
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