There is a common conversation for those working in or educating others regarding the differences between equity and equality. We highlight equity is not synonymous with equality, and that we cannot expect things to be the same for every person. What happens though if neither equity or equality are present? Is that even possible? The many parents caring for and loving young people struggling with mental illness will tell you, yes, it is possible and unfathomable at the same time.

In November 2016, Children’s Mental Health Ontario, a grassroots organization calling awareness to mental health issues for young people, shared the results of a report indicating that on average young people in Ontario wait up to 1.5 years for treatment. And that is if they are lucky – in some pockets of the province the wait times are even longer. Further, they noted nearly 12,000 young people were currently waiting for long term psychotherapy.

Kim Moran, the CEO of Children’s Mental Health Ontario was quoted:

Ontario has turned its back on children and youth in desperate need of mental health services. Unacceptable wait times and insufficient access to mental health professionals have created a crisis.

And she is right – it is unacceptable to see anyone suffer up to 1.5 years to begin treatment, even more so though when it is a young person. There is substantive evidence supporting the notion that beginning treatment for mental health issues early on will reduce the level of chronicity associated with mental illness. With increased concerns regarding suicide rates among youth in the province, it is essential we find ways to get the support needed.

Access is also determined by where you live in this province; the farther away you are from a large urban centre, the less access you have to mental healthcare providers. Those of us living in rural and remote locations expect we will need to travel for some of our care, and we recognize it is not feasible to provide every service in every community. We do, though, also expect that when we need care, there will be access provided somehow.

However, we are also keenly aware the Canada Health Act has very clearly articulated Access as a tenet. And yet, large areas of our province lack this access. Young Indigenous peoples living in remote areas of Ontario do not have access to timely mental health care. Youth living in areas such as Barrie must wait over 200 days(!) for diagnosis and treatment, and youth in Northumberland county are waiting 120 days.

How then do we rationalize this with the quality health care system we as Canadians are so quick to talk about with pride? We have nothing to be proud of when it comes to addressing youth mental health issues, and in fact we should be ashamed.

Decision makers in our province could address this issue, yet have failed to do so. We hear platitudes when a young person takes their life and it is in the news. But nothing is done. A rash of suicides occur on a remote First Nations reservation, sadness and dismay are expressed, along with empty promises to do something. But nothing is done. Sorry, let me correct that – nothing is done by those in power; lots gets done by the parents and loved ones of these young people.

That is where the care and responsibility gets downloaded, to the parents. Parents who spend sleepless nights checking on the child they fear is suicidal, deconstructing every comment or action made by the young person struggling with an eating disorder, watching every movement of the child they fear is dealing with a substance addiction. Downloading this care to parents is not reflective of the expectations of the Canada Health Act and at all levels of government we can and must do better.

This crisis will not resolve on its own so it is up to each of us to prompt action.

About Kim English

I am a Registered Nurse, and Nursing professor with a passion for addressing mental health issues amongst youth. My specific areas of interest are assisting those with mental illness and on the autism spectrum navigate post secondary education and career entry. I also serve as an advocate for rural and Indigenous youth mental health issues.

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