Kitchener-Waterloo·Special Report

Mental health services fall short for young adults in Waterloo Region

CBC Radio in Kitchener-Waterloo has launched a week-long series looking at the barriers and challenges faced by young adults aged 18-25 seeking mental health services in the region.

Challenges grow as children age into adulthood

Young adults 18-25 face unique challenges in trying to access mental health services in Waterloo Region, partly because of the availability of services offered and partly because of their age.

CBC Radio in Kitchener-Waterloo has launched a week-long series looking at the barriers and challenges faced by these young adults.

According to figures researched by CBC News, 9,742 people from Waterloo, Wellington and Dufferin regions called the 24/7 help line between August 2014 and August 2015. The age range of the younger callers was identified approximately as 10 per day:

  • 1,487 people aged 10-19
  • 2,388 people aged 20-29

This call can lead to the first bottleneck in the mental health care system, however. Although callers can quickly get referrals to counseling and other services, the diagnosis and treatment sector has been overloaded by the success of the help line's accessibility.

Age matters

Another significant factor is the age of the person seeking help. People tend to experience their first episode of a mental illness, such as depression, when they are between the ages of 18 and 25.

"A certain proportion of individuals who have depression will experience depression either chronically or recurrently over their lifetime and that confers a significant burden," says Dr. Paul Kurdyak, a researcher and clinician at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. 

If treated early, Kurdyak says the burden of a mental illness can be reversed, and individuals can lead healthy, productive lives. 

As a result, "if you invested the $100 in prevention and treatment of depression when people are 19 to 24, and as a result of that $100 they live the rest of their lives depression free, well, that's a very powerful investment," he says.

But funding mental health services may not be enough, as accessing adult services can be difficult.

If...as a result of that $100, they live the rest of their lives depression free, well, that's a very powerful investment.- Dr. Paul Kurdyak , Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Under  the age of 18, a person's mental health care is administered by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services. However, once the person turns 18, they are considered part of the adult medical care process in Ontario and must make the transition to services and systems run by the Ministry of Health and Long Term care.

Many 18 to 25-year-olds do not have the life skills to navigate government care programs–especially on their own, and especially if they are already hampered by psychological issues.

The CBC Radio series includes:

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