New Brunswick

Child and youth advocate seeks end to 'crisis-based' mental health support

Youth service providers in New Brunswick say they're optimistic the province is on the right track to ending the current crisis-based management of mental health problems.

Youth service providers believe N.B. is 'on the right track' to addressing needs, reducing hospitalizations

New Brunswick has the highest hospitalization rate in the country for youth with mental health issues. (Courtesy Kids Help Phone)

It might start with anxiety over exams or maybe bullying. That might lead to substance abuse to deal with the stress. And that might result in an addiction.

"It just becomes a snowball effect," said June Breau-Nason, executive director of the Teen Resource Centre (TRC) in Saint John, which serves youth aged 12 to 24.

"Something small and minor … turns into something very big, very quickly because they can't access the services," they need.

That lack of access to mental health services in New Brunswick is reflected in a report released earlier this week by the province's Child and Youth Advocate, said spokesman Chris Whalen.

The report found only 51 per cent of the children and youth in the province who sought mental health services in 2015-16 got it within 30 days and that the rate of youth hospitalizations for mental health problems is higher in New Brunswick than the national average at 48.8 cases per 10,000, compared to 37.7.

"It's a reflection of the current state of affairs in New Brunswick, where we don't have enough community resources and primary health care solutions available to guide young people who are experiencing the onset of mental illness," said Whalen.

"We tend to wait and defer and people are on waiting lists sometimes … and then they show up at the emerg in crisis. So it's a kind of crisis-based management approach that the province is, I think, working hard to try and move away from."

Whalen cited the Integrated Service Delivery (ISD) model, first piloted in Charlotte County five years ago, and now being rolled out in school districts across the province, as an example.

ISD sees teams of experts from several government departments, including education, health, social development and public safety, working collaboratively with school officials to ensure youth receive the appropriate services and treatment at the right time and intensity.

Worse before better

But Whalen expects that will also mean the situation will get worse before it gets better because youth in need will be identified earlier and more of them will be brought into the system; some of them hospitalized, which is often less effective and more expensive.

"So first we need to increase our numbers in terms of getting the people who need care into a clinical setting and then we can work at developing more community resources that will provide earlier, better intervention that will hopefully see a reduction in the number of kids that we see show up in emergency," he said.

Yennah Hurley, the executive director of the proposed Kennebecasis Valley Oasis Youth Centre, feels optimistic. (Yenna Hurley)
Yennah Hurley, executive director of the Kennebecasis Valley Oasis Youth Centre in Quispamsis, which serves youth aged 12 to 25, is optimistic. "And I haven't been for a long time," she said.

"I really feel these guys [in government] get it and that they really do want to make this … a better situation."

Hurley is particularly excited about plans to offer more community-based services, noting youth in rural areas often don't have access to transportation to get to services provided in larger centres, and some youth don't feel comfortable going to a school or hospital for help.

She also believes the province is "on the right track" with ISD, which she describes as "an awesome model."

"It's not working flawlessly" yet, said Hurley, noting the centre reached out with a counselling request for one youth, who sleeps a lot, isn't attending school and seems generally disinterested, but is still waiting for help.

"But that's, I think, [because] they're just setting it up," and working out the "glitches," she said.

Need to reduce stigma

Some of the needs she hopes to see addressed for youth include services for anxiety, depression and eating disorders.

"We get calls here on a daily basis … everything from, 'I'm experiencing a little anxiety,' to 'I'm literally walking around with a suicide note in my pocket.'"

"So we need to make sure that we are addressing every one of those issues seriously … We need to assess them and figure out which ones are just maybe teenage angst and which ones are really serious issues so that they don't become so much more complicated later on in life."

Breau-Nason also hopes to see more education to deal with the stigma still surrounding mental health so youth won't be afraid to seek help when they need it.

"I think we can do better and I think we are starting to do better, but it takes time."