Services for children’s mental health are overburdened, and COVID hasn’t helped

Services for children's mental health are overburdened
Credit: gettyimages

Examine the issues that children’s mental health services are experiencing, such as the COVID-19 effect and an overburdened system. Find out about the ways that the epidemic has made things worse and about potential solutions to help children and families who are in need.

 According to people on the front lines, the overuse of mental health services in the Ottawa region extends to both hospitals and community clinics, and the issue is not solely related to COVID-19.

According to David Murphy, head of mental health, the inpatient facilities at CHEO, the children’s hospital in eastern Ontario, were completely full as of Friday.

Murphy remarked, “This would have been the same situation if you had asked me two weeks ago—if you had asked me six years ago.”

“It’s not a surge anymore, and it hasn’t been for a while.” “We have lived with it for a long time.”

Murphy claimed that despite this, COVID-19 has increased the prevalence of eating disorders while also making symptoms worse in young people who may have been improving before the epidemic.

He claimed that spending money on things like family therapy, counseling, psychotherapy, and crisis services would greatly ease the pressure CHEO has been under for years.

For youngsters to avoid using our emergency services, he continued, “we just need to establish greater capacity in the community.” We must make sure that young people who are in need of assistance have other options besides visiting an already overburdened emergency department.

Services for children's mental health are overburdened
At the children’s hospital in eastern Ontario, the inpatient mental health units are completely full. (Credit: cbc news)


Community services also seeing high numbers 

Community workers concur that the pandemic did nothing to stop the influx of kids with mental health issues.

Monica Armstrong, the Youth Services Bureau’s director of mental health, described the situation as “a little bit of a perfect storm.”

“To begin with, we weren’t a very reliable system.” Then there is an increase in demand, followed by young individuals [whose problems are more complex].”

Services for children's mental health are overburdened, and COVID hasn't helped (7)
Credit: gettyimages

Although the return to a more regular life for some children has helped, many others are still having difficulties, according to Armstrong. Restrictions have been loosened over the

past 12 months. After several years of uncertainty and grief, she added, her team is still dealing with children who are experiencing worry and sadness.

According to Armstrong, the number of suicide-related calls handled by the organization’s 24-hour crisis line has increased significantly, from about 12% in 2018-2019 to about 28%.

I believe we will continue to feel the effects of that for years to come.

Armstrong agreed with Murphy that more financing and system capacity were both required, noting that the mental health care area also faces the same staffing challenges as the rest of the health care industry.


New initiatives

Services for children's mental health are overburdened, and COVID hasn't helped (2)
Credit: gettyimages

Armstrong noted the Youth Resources Bureau’s own crisis phone and chat line and its walk-in clinic, where children and families can come for only one visit or be connected with other services if needed, as examples of how mental health organizations are developing strategies to lessen the load.

At Crossroads Children’s Mental Health Centre, which is likewise coping with a backlog of young patients, comparable activities are in progress.

The Counselling Connect service, which offers instant access to phone and video counseling with more than 100 practitioners from more than 20 agencies, has been successful for Crossroads. According to associate director Natasha McBrearty, the counselors come from a variety of backgrounds and are multilingual.

Services for children's mental health are overburdened, and COVID hasn't helped 10
It has been crucial in reducing backlogs, according to Natasha McBrearty of Crossroads Children’s Mental Health Centre, to find new approaches to treat kids. (Credit: CBC)

The outbreak, according to McBrearty, “really pushed us to, you know, go into problem-solving mode and see how we could get services out to people as rapidly as possible.”

“For most families, having the option of quick access is really beneficial, even if it is only for a quick counseling session. We can then assist other families who might require more in getting to something more intensive by navigating them from that point on.”


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