In 2016 Cumberland County produced a study called Vital Signs. In it they made reference to Youth Mental Health in Cumberland by saying that our area in 2012 had the highest levels of very elevated depressive symptoms in the province (11% compared to 9% provincially). Cumberland had the second highest rate of suicidal thoughts and behavior among youth (17%). Female students were nearly twice as likely to attempt suicide as males.
In 2011 the population of Cumberland County was 30,235 people with 5,015 under the age of 18 (Statistics Canada – 2016 data will be released in February). If we apply the percentages above we could say that approximately 560 children and youth will have very elevated depressive symptoms and approximately 870 will have suicidal thoughts and behaviors. For our County these numbers are staggering.
The Mental Health & Addictions Child/Adolescent team serves all of Cumberland County. They have satellite clinics in Pugwash, Parrsboro and Springhill. There are six full-time outpatient clinicians, one Schools Plus Mental Health clinician, and an Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention program which is staffed by a clinical interventionist and three Autism Support Workers. This program provides intensive support to preschool children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. They are very involved with our community and work closely with our partners in Justice, Education, Health and Wellness and Community Services. They also are involved with our other community partners including Maggie’s Place, Teen Health Centres, the YMCA, Early Intervention, local daycares and preschools and they also participate on many community boards. Services are provided in all community settings including home, daycare, group homes and schools. There is also a crisis team which provides urgent service on a daily basis at the outpatient clinic and at the CRHCC emergency department.
As the awareness of the importance of maintaining our mental health and properly treating mental illness grows, so does the need for expanded services. Children and Youth are now more aware of symptoms and are more open to seeking and receiving care. As the stigmas diminish the need for treatment and support increases and the possibility of positive, healthy outcomes is within closer reach. Over the past few years referrals to Mental Health & Addictions have increased by more than 50%. With limited community resources, particularly for youth 16-19, our clinic has become a catch-all for many issues that are generally not part of the mandate of an outpatient Mental Health & Addictions team. The team is often faced with youth who do not have a secure place to stay nor an income which allows them to afford other necessities in life such as healthy food and medication. It is well-known that if your basic needs are not met then maintaining your mental health and treating your mental illness becomes a secondary concern. Mental health clinicians find that it is virtually impossible to provide an intervention to a client who is hungry, who has little to no sleep or who has not been able to renew their anti-depressant medication.
Mental Health & Addictions has been so fortunate to have the Foundation’s Youth Fund (all ages up to 19) which has supported their day to day work. In general, this fund has provided help with school resources, camps and outings, support for group therapy sessions, the construction/furnishing of Sensory/comfort t rooms in schools (including at the new West Highlands School) and more.
In the future, Mental Health & Addictions hopes that the Youth Fund will be able to support new initiatives as well as maintain the opportunities that they have been able to offer to clients in the past. Mental Health & Addictions have recently been given the permission to renovate one of their group rooms into a play and art therapy room. There are trained clinicians who are eager to do this work and who are in need of a larger and more suitable space to provide these interventions. Those on the child/adolescent team are very excited about developing a child and youth specific space as they have not been able to do so in the past. In order to properly organize and supply this room they will be looking to the Foundation for additional funding.
Many families are from outlying areas and are not close to a satellite clinic. They have difficulty with the travel costs and/or do not have a vehicle. Transportation is often offered by taxi or by providing gas vouchers. As the IWK is the inpatient treatment facility, the cost to get families there is high. Without support many families would not be able to take their children there.
As well, the cost of prescriptions can be high. Mental Health & Addictions has often had to subsidize medication costs so that clients can receive the treatment they require.
Many children and youth, due to limited financial resources, do not get to participate in social activities that are so important to a well-rounded life and mental wellness. In the past the Foundation has provided funding for a student to be able to participate in their graduation activities including the prom and the purchase of a yearbook. Other students have received funding to support their admission applications to secondary education. Others have been able to participate in a sport or leisure activity such as karate or dance.
The Foundation’s Youth Fund has also been able to provide camp experiences to many children over the years that would never have had the opportunity to participate in this type of experience. It is amazing to see the difference in a child’s self-esteem and confidence after they return from a week of camp.
The Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention team has also been able to provide yearly social outings to the families they serve. These events allow parents to take their children to places such as Magic Mountain with the specialized support of the EIBI team. Parents are finally seeing their child, and family, experience something that so many others take for granted.
The child and adolescent team clinicians are highly dedicated to the families they serve and are very resourceful in their service to these families. They explore all possibilities for funding the needs presented by their clients; however, there are only so many resources in our community.
By supporting the Foundation’s Youth Fund your gift will mean a tremendous difference to hundreds of children, youth and families all across Cumberland County. So many of these children and youth are seen but rarely are they understood. By helping the Mental Health & Addictions team expand and enhance the work they do the entire community benefits. Schools can become less disruptive, families can manage with less anxiety and stress, and most of all the children can lead highly satisfying, productive, and mentally healthy lives.