Mental-health clinic for youth first of its kind in Alberta

A new clinic for kids and young adults with mental health and addictions issues could have helped one Edmonton family's struggle to find help for their child.

Access Open Minds helps young people between the ages of 11 and 25

Kathy Shettell, mother of a son with schizophrenia, is now working at the new Access Open Minds clinic. (Peter Evans/CBC)

A new clinic for children and young adults with mental health and addictions issues will provide the kind of services Kathy Shettell says could have helped her family.

Shettell's 24-year-old son has schizophrenia and is currently in hospital getting treatment. He had his first psychotic break in 2011 when he was 18.

"It just sort of blindsided us," said Shettell, who now works as a family adviser with the Access Open Minds Clinic, which launched its services Thursday in Edmonton.

It's the first clinic of its kind in the city and the 12th in the country.

The clinic — at the Bill Rees YMCA downtown — has three psychiatrists and two mental health therapists on staff. They work with patients ranging in age from 11 to 25.

Including the family is key

Shettell said her son would have had a more successful recovery if he'd been able to access a clinic like Access Open Minds when he first started showing symptoms.

"Working with the family — that's another key point of Access Open Minds," she said, "involving the family and recognizing how important the family is."

Shettell said things got more difficult for her family after her son became an adult. Obtaining information about his treatment became more difficult due to privacy concerns.

Katherine Hay, the clinic's program manager , said a patient's mental health team shouldn't change just because they've turned 18.
Katherine Hay says the new clinic will be needs-based, not age-based. (Peter Evans/CBC)

"Access OM delays the transition to adult-only services for several years to ensure continuity of care during a crucial period in a young person's life," she said.

Increase in youth mental health issues since 2015

Dr. Adam Abba-Aji is one of the psychiatrists at Access Open Minds. He said he's seen a 30-per-cent increase in young people needing help with mental health and addiction issues since 2015.

"Anxiety, addiction problems, depression, as well as psychotic disorders," Abba-Aji said.
Dr. Adam Abba-Aji is a psychiatrist at Access Open Minds. (Peter Evans/CBC)

He said the downturn in the economy is one reason why he's seeing so many more patients.

"When the family has lost their jobs, then the tolerance within the family changes," he said. "The family dynamic changes and then it takes a toll on the children."

Abba-Aji said the new clinic was designed with input from young people. Access to the program is different from traditional clinics.

"You can come at will," he said. "You don't have to be referred by anybody. The fact that we have everything for everybody. So you cannot be turned back and [told], 'Oh no, this is not what we do.' "

Getting kids to admit they've got a problem

Shettell said the biggest challenge can be getting a young person to realize they need treatment.

"If the person is reluctant, [clinic staff] will keep trying and they will engage youth where they're at," she said.

"They will let the youth choose what they want to work on. If they want to work on their mental health, then that's where they will direct them. If they want to work on their addictions and not worry about their mental health, then they will work more on education."

"We're always telling them what they need to do," she said. "But if they can buy in, you can engage them, which I think is the most important thing."

About the Author

Nola Keeler is an award-winning journalist who has worked with CBC in Whitehorse, Yukon and Edmonton since 2000. She has worked as a host, reporter, news reader and producer for CBC. Send story ideas to nola.keeler@cbc.ca.