Young people between 16 and 24 years old have more challenges than other age groups in getting mental health and addiction services in Canada, a new study comparing mental health care across five provinces has found.
“Wherever we looked, they were the group that had the poorest access to care,” said Dr. Paul Kurdyak, senior scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) and co-author of the report.
“This is a real problem because this is the age at which mental illnesses have their first onset. So you want really rapid access,” said Kurdyak, who is also a psychiatrist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.
For example, the study — called Toward Quality Mental Health Services in Canada — found that children and youth aged 10-19 made up the highest percentage of people who had their first medical contact for their mental health disorder or addiction in an emergency department.
Although the study says that’s “partly expected since youth have the highest rates of incidence of mental illness, and a shorter time period for symptom detection,” it also suggests “there is most certainly room for improvement in early identification (including by parents/guardians, in schools and in primary care).”
British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec agreed to share health data with researchers, including hospital discharge and physician billing records, to try to help paint a picture of the state of mental health and addiction services.
Dr. James Bolton, medical director of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority Crisis Response Centre, said the resulting findings that getting help is especially challenging for youth are borne out in his own work on the front lines.
“We see a lot of people who are struggling and especially young people,” he said. “Day to day we see young people coming in with new mental health problems. It’s hard for them to find the right care; it’s hard for them to get sustained on the right care.”
Suicide attempts higher in Manitoba
One of the most striking findings in the study is the rate of suicide attempts by people suffering from mental illness or addictions.
In all four provinces that provided data — Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and B.C. — young people had the highest rates of suicide…