Youth left out of mental health services

There is no legal framework for mental health services for children and youth in the territory. Child and Youth Advocate Andy Nieman says there should be. "Nothing is clear," added deputy advocate Jody Studney.

There is no legal framework for mental health services for children and youth in the territory.

Child and Youth Advocate Andy Nieman says there should be.

“Nothing is clear,” added deputy advocate Jody Studney.

There’s enough stress on these families and these children already without the lack of direction on what’s available and where, she said.

The territorial government doesn’t even have a recognized definition of what mental health is. Anything from addiction to schizophrenia is grouped under one umbrella, she said.

“It’s left up to the discretion of the individual worker,” said Nieman.

There is no policy manual for mental health services, said Studney.

Without proper legal policy, needs are ignored, services that do exist are used improperly and there is no accountability, said Nieman.

When the advocate’s office recognized their caseload was filled with people needing mental health services, they found they couldn’t find any answers for their questions, let alone for the families and children they work for.

When they asked mental health for the policy and procedure legislation for children and youth, they received a letter telling them there was none.

There is legislation for adults, but youth and children do not have the same rights as adults. They do not have the same relationship to government as adults do. They are not in the same circumstances. They attend school, not work, for example. And they are at different stages of life with very different planning and precautions necessary.

Now the advocate’s office is researching regions across Canada, with similar demographics to the Yukon, and is realizing it’s the same across the board.

Canadian policy only addresses adults, said Studney.

Meanwhile there is a “national epidemic” of mental health needs among youth and children across the country, said both Nieman and Studney.

The territorial government knows there is a gap in legislation.

“But you know, there are gaps on many issues in regards to health,” said Health and Social Services Minister Glenn Hart. “If you were to sit down beside me all day and find out what I have to deal with every day, it’d be interesting to see where you would put your balance and your weight. There are many, many issues that we have to look at every day with regards to health care.”

It would be similarly interesting if Hart sat with families who have youth with mental health needs, said Studney.

“What happens is mental health services does the diagnosis, but then there’s a requirement to the families, there’s a reliance on them to find support and services,” she said. “The expectation is that the family is going to be resourceful enough and have the capacity to find those services and supports, but often what we’re dealing with is disenfranchised families who don’t have that capacity and no one to support them through it.”

Even if they did have the capacity and support, the advocates claim that without the clarity and organization of policy and legislation, families would still be hard-pressed to find what they need.

The territory is spending millions on a sobering centre at the prison, but it will do nothing for children or youth except take money from their needs, said both advocates.

“These are the most vulnerable people we have in society, our children and youth affected by mental health illness,” said Studney.

They’d like a mental health and addictions facility built for children and youth. And better mental health support offered to families and communities.

“We’re working with our child services, developing what’s necessary,” said Hart. “Mental health is a big problem right across the territory.”

He noted Yukon’s Early Psychosis Intervention Program.

The program offers help in identifying psychosis and where to get help.

It is exactly the type of programming advocates are calling for, but they also want the legal backing to keep it around.

Until early this month, the Reality Rules! program was just a pilot project with funding set to end in March.

The territorial government recently announced another $700,000 for it and two other mental health services.

In a release announcing the continued funding, Hart noted how important these services are.

And the program is helping, said both advocates.

But it’s just not enough.

“The needs are complex and it takes agencies working together,” said Nieman. Surprisingly, they believe there are enough professionals up here to fill the gap, but it is this lack of framework and policy that stops them from collaborating, he said. “Because no one agency can address the needs, it seems people just back off.”

And the situation is only getting worse, Nieman said.

“It is a national epidemic. We have a small population, we don’t have all the resources,” he said. “However we seem to be getting more and more families and the children seem to be having more and more complex needs.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com

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