Kitchener-Waterloo·Special Report

Young adults occupy 'blank space' in Waterloo Region mental health care

Mental health services in Waterloo Region and Wellington County are failing young adults between 18 and 25, according to two advocates from Guelph. In an interview with Craig Norris on The Morning Edition, they explain the 'blank space' young adults fall into.

'They send you in this blank space where you're just hanging around,' says young advocate.

A new study from researchers at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo has found walk-in therapy clinics are more effective at helping people work through their problems than traditional sessions. The researchers based their study on information gathered from people accessing help through KW Counselling Services. (iStock)

Mental health services in Waterloo Region and Wellington County are failing young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 according to two advocates from Guelph. 

Shelby Richardson and Aly "Smith" (not her real name) shared their stories and voiced their frustrations in an interview with Craig Norris on The Morning Edition. Both are members of Giving Light Offers Worth and Wellness (GLOWW), a support group for young adults struggling with mental illness.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

Aly, what kind of services did you try to access after you were diagnosed? 

When I first moved down to Guelph, I sat on a waiting list for [Canadian Mental Health Assocation] services, and my mental health kind of escalated. It caused me to have a lot of issues. I struggled with school last year. I constantly felt hopeless—didn't want to continue with anything.

For the most part, it was just, like, sitting on a waiting list and knowing that you're at the bottom of a three-year waiting list. It makes you re-evaluate. It's like, is it even worth sitting on this waiting list? Is it even worth going day-to-day? 

Shelby, when did you first try to get help? 

Last year. So, I was going through a really hard time with my depression and I decided that it was time that I tried to look for help. So, I talked to my dad about it and he looked for someone for me. It didn't take too long, but the therapist that I got—it only lasted a couple of weeks. It was a temporary program. So, it really didn't do that much for me, because it only lasted a little amount of time.

You feel dumb and you feel stupid and you feel like you're just going to fail.- Shelby Richardson

Then, I guess the fear of trying to start to look again, it sets in and then I just kind of procrastinate. So, I just haven't looked all that much. I've considered seeing about going through CMHA, but with some things I've heard, it's just I don't think it's worth it, because it will just take too long.

Aly, how did you eventually get services? 

It actually started from one of my college projects, which was a family of origin project. We were looking at patterns of abuse, whether it was physical, substance, and all that stuff. As I was presenting to my teacher, I just broke down. He brought me down to counselling services through the college and everything came out. I was feeling suicidal. I didn't want anything to do with life anymore. It was actually through them that they connected me with my psychiatrist. 

Aly, what needs to happen to make mental health services more responsive to the needs of young people? 

Speaking with our adult allies, we were informed that there is no transitioning period at all from child to [adult]. So, once you turn 18, you're kind of in a limbo for a year until you're 19. There's that one year period where you don't fit the children's services anymore, so they kick you out of there, but you don't quite fit adult services yet. So, they send you in this blank space where you're just hanging around, trying to figure out where you fit. So, I think we need a transitioning program. 

And, from the sounds of it, we've only got one or two psychiatrists for the Canadian Mental Health Association. So, I think we kind of need to see changes there so that you're not waiting two to three months to see a psychiatrist, because she's overloaded.

Shelby, what would you like to see changed? 

There needs to be something in place for the 18, 19-year-olds, because they're considered adults when, in reality, they're still technically teenagers. A couple of them are still going to high school, some of them are just getting out of high school, and they're getting thrown in with the older adults, like, late 20s and beyond. All those age groups have different problems to deal with. 

I just finished high school and there's so many struggles to go through in high school. Sometimes you feel hopeless, because you feel dumb and you feel stupid and you feel like you're just going to fail. So, that's something that some teenagers worry about. Meanwhile, adults are finished with high school and they don't really have those problems anymore. 

Aly, what are you doing to try and close some of the gaps we've been talking about? 

I volunteer with the provincial advocate's office for children and youth in Toronto. We actually have the head provincial advocate, Irwin Elman, coming in to our youth group, GLOWW, on October 5th. He's coming to hear us out and see what we think needs to change. 

With GLOWW, our whole thing is raising awareness and erasing the stigma. For the provincial advocate's office, on the other hand, we're looking at all the flaws in the system and we would be connecting with the Minister of Health Services—high up people—who can make these changes. That's going to give the GLOWW youth and other youth throughout Ontario the chance to tell these people what's wrong with the system. 

Read more in the CBC Kitchener-Waterloo series on mental health services for young adults in Waterloo Region.


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