Saskatchewan

Advocate's report: 38% of Sask. children, youth surveyed say pandemic has hurt mental health

Children and youth in the province are at a crisis point in trying to access and receive mental-health and addictions services, according to a special report by the advocate for children and youth

'System needs redesigning or more resources are required': Lisa Broda

Lisa Broda, Saskatchewan's advocate for children and youth, made her special report on Tuesday. (CBC)

Children and youth in Saskatchewan are at a crisis point in trying to access and receive mental-health and addictions services, according to a special report by the province's advocate for children and youth.

The report found that they are not getting help in time due to long wait periods, along with inadequate resources. 

The report involved almost 500 participants from across ministry sectors, communities, families and young people. It investigated concerns including self-harm, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, completed suicides and substance use among young people.

The advocate's report found that 38 per cent of surveyed children and youth in Saskatchewan reported a decline in their mental health as a result of the pandemic.

"It's very clear suicide is the gravest outcome of poor mental health and well-being in children. There's no question that COVID 19 has exacerbated these issues," advocate Lisa Broda told reporters at the Legislative Building in Regina on Tuesday. 

"Research shows that young people across Canada are being hit harder by COVID 19 stressors than adults. The impacts of social isolation, school closures, moves to remote learning, job losses are causing significant stressors on children, youth, families and communities," she said.

"We recognise the pressures of responding to the pandemic have hindered the pace of government efforts on addressing mental health. However, the impacts of the pandemic should signal the increased urgency required to address barriers to meaningful services that were already an issue prior to the pandemic."

A graphic from the advocate's report, showing statistics from 2019. (Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth)

The report includes 14 recommendations for the government, all related to mental-health and addictions, inpatient and community-based services.

Data from the Coroners Service of Saskatchewan shows that from 2010 to 2021, 235 children and youth up to 19 years of age died by suicide in the province. 

We're going to continue to have discussions with our our partners and fellow ministries and try to address this as quickly as possible — identify, you know, how we can best approach this to make some meaningful change.- Everett Hindley, minister of mental health and addictions

Kye Ball was one of those young people. He took his own life in 2017.

His parents, Chris and Wanda Ball, were at the legislature on Tuesday to urge the government to take concrete steps to address the problems outlined in the report.

"It's been a problem for years," said Chris Ball. "We've had our marches. We've ended up on the front steps of this building and there has been nothing done and they won't give us a timeline on when they're going to fix this problem.

"We need a timeline on when they're going to fix this problem."

Wanda Bell, second from left, stands beside her husband Chris holding a picture of their son Kye, who committed suicide in 2017 at the age of 16. NDP Mental Health and Addictions critic Doyle Vermette, left, and NDP Deputy Leader Nicole Sarauer, right, are also pictured. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC News)

Wanda Ball said her family will keep coming back to advocate for improved health measures because there is never closure when you lose a child.

"We just don't want any other parents to go through this and to have to stand here and explain themselves as we are," she said.

The Balls say they are frustrated the government won't take the time to talk with them.

"All we wanted was to meet with these guys, fix these problems," Chris Ball said, but they "don't even take the time to come see us."

Advocate's recommendations

The advocate is calling for youth advisory councils to be implemented within the Ministry of Health and health authorities.

She calls for wait times for mental health and addictions services to be decreased, and outreach-based mental health and addictions services to be expanded. 

The advocate recommends the funding of more mental health counselors and Indigenous elders and knowledge keepers in schools. She also recommends funding and providing in-home support services to families who require it in order to maintain care for their children at home. 

The advocate wants "middle-tier" therapeutic residential services for children and youth developed in Saskatchewan. She recommends that current detox and addictions treatment models be evaluated and enhanced. 

Furthermore, the advocate calls for the transition from child and youth to adult mental health and addictions services to be improved. She recommends that the government move all child-serving ministries to an integrated service-delivery model to "enhance communication and coordination of services and achieve better outcomes for mental health and addictions services."

The advocate's report found that 38 per cent of children and youth in Saskatchewan reported a decline in their mental health as a result of the pandemic. (Yuriko Nakao/Reuters)

The advocate also recommends that the Saskatchewan government develop a provincewide "children's strategy" to "mitigate the social and environmental factors that negatively impact the well-being of children and youth."

"The bottom line is this young people need services when they need it. Not weeks, not months, not years, and in many cases, never," she said.

The report says children need to get mental-health and addictions services in a timely manner so they can enter adulthood and have the opportunities they deserve.

"We continue to see a failure in children's getting services from what appears to be a fragmented system," she said. "This is not acceptable, and while I acknowledge the recent health investments, it hasn't made an indent to adequately address the underlying issues. So either the system needs redesigning or more resources are required, or perhaps both."

Everett Hindley, minister of mental health and addictions, would not commit to accepting all of the recommendations or lay out a timeline of when they might be implemented..

"We're going to continue to have discussions with our our partners and fellow ministries and try to address this as quickly as possible — identify, you know, how we can best approach this to make some meaningful change," Hindley said.

Doyle Vermette, Opposition mental health and addictions critic, called on the government to accept the recommendations in the report.

"I thought this budget would bring some of that relief to those families like those that have walked here, those that have signed a petition," Vermette said.

"We have a crisis and we're waiting for the government to see what they're going to do.… Have they consulted with families who have lost like Wanda and Chris? Have they reached out to them? And if they haven't, why not?

"No more. 'Oh we're sorry. Our condolences.' Enough. It's time for some serious action."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan. She is also the community reporter for CBC's virtual road trip series Land of Living Stories. Laura previously worked for CBC Vancouver. Some of her former work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, NYLON Magazine, VICE Canada and The Tyee. She holds a master of journalism degree from the University of British Columbia. Follow Laura on Twitter: @MeLaura. Send her news tips at laura.sciarpelletti@cbc.ca

With files from Scott Larson

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