A Surrey high school student is calling for improved access to mental health support after a recent national study highlighted depression as one of the top 10 threats to young people.
The Children First Canada study, published Wednesday (Sept. 1), notes that COVID-19 has accelerated some existing threats to children. These include unintentional and preventable injuries, such as opioid poisoning; poor mental health; systemic racism and discrimination; child abuse, vaccine-preventable illnesses; poverty; food and nutritional insecurity; infant mortality; bullying and limited physical activity.
“Kids are in crisis and have experienced widespread violations of their human rights,” the report states. “Child advocates say what is most shocking is that despite the overwhelming evidence about the threats to children’s survival and development, so little has been done to intervene by government at all levels.”
Enver Creek Secondary student Simi Sahota, who is going into Grade 12 this year and is a volunteer with Children First Canada, said many of the threats are interconnected.
A key issue with mental health support in B.C., Sahota said, is access.
“I have spoken to many other youth who have suffered with mental health. Just reaching out is such a hard part. I know so many people who reached out to these hot-lines and numbers you can call, they are then put on wait-lists and put on hold because they’ve just been over flooded,” Sahota said.
“It’s hard to imagine, just once you finally reach out for help, you’re just put on hold.”
Sahota said the problem with lack of access will continue far beyond the pandemic, because the long-term damaging effects of COVID-19 are not going to go away.
“We need to see better resources and funding within our mental health facilities and in our schools to help us reach out,” she said.
Asked if teachers talk to students about mental health supports, Sahota replied that about half of them do. She said teachers who do talk about it, speak to the importance of looking after mental health, “but they don’t tell us how.”
“We kind of rely on other youth to talk about it, but we know that’s not proper care. We need to be talking to someone professional like a counsellor, a therapist, or a hot-line,” she said, adding that school counsellors have a busy schedule.
“Everywhere we go everyone has been struggling, so all of the resources have been taken up and there’s no one to turn to.”
In addition to mental health, Sahota said the rise in anti-Asian racism has left many youth scared for themselves and their elders.
“We’ve seen the rise in anti-Asian hate and it’s just so baseless,” Sahota said. “People are scared to admit that they have COVID-19, especially Asian people within my school, because they are scared of all this prejudice that they might face because of that.”
Minister of Addictions and Mental Health Sheila Malcolmson said the provincial government has heard “loud and clear” that investments in child and youth mental health is “the most important thing we can do as a province.”
Asked about wait times for youth trying to access support, Malcolmson said wait times have been reduced.
“But I agree, a wait time when you’re in crisis is terrible news,” Malcolmson said.
Malcolmson said the government is set to launch a new website to help youth navigate the mental health support system, she also made note of Foundry Virtual BC app, launched earlier this year.
People aged 12-24 and their caregivers can use the app to “drop-in” or schedule a virtual counselling appointment, find peer support, join a youth group or caregiver group, or browse a library of tools and resources.
“It’s focused on problem solving as opposed to long-term counselling,” Malcolmson said.
“The young people I’ve talked to said it made a huge difference in their lives. That is something we’re invested heavily in as a province because we really want to take that pressure off the wait-list and get young people connected to help immediately.”
Malcolmson said the government is also adding 300 full-time mental health workers in communities across province, starting with five school districts.
“That’s again a way of getting connected with young people who need help with mental health early so that the smaller problems don’t turn into big ones.”
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, mental health disorders in youth are ranked as the second-highest hospital care expenditure in Canada, with 3.2 million youth between the ages of 12 and 19 at risk for developing depression.
One of the leading causes of death in Canadians between the ages of 15 and 24 is suicide, with 4,000 people dying by suicide each year.
Children First Canada study below: