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Celebrating Children’s Mental Health Week 2019

By Chris Bartha, Executive Director, SickKids CCMH

Starting today on sickkidscmh.ca, we are celebrating Children’s Mental Health Week. For our first installment of our series, Chris Bartha, Executive Director, Brain and Mental Health Program, SickKids, and SickKids Centre for Community Mental Health (SickKids CCMH), describes why the good work in mental health care being done at SickKids and SickKids CCMH fills her with optimism.

Children’s Mental Health Week, one of the largest awareness raising events in Ontario, begins today and among the many compelling pediatric health challenges we face, solving the unrelenting mental health crisis remains a priority for every level of government, health care providers, educators, families and our youth and children. Each day this week we will feature an article in Daily News by experts in brain and mental health, shining a spotlight on the compelling need to better address the mental health across our many patient populations. 

Last month, the results from the updated 1986 Ontario Child Health Study (OCHS) were published. Over 30 years ago, this milestone study shed light on the desperate state of children’s mental health in Ontario. The study was the first empirical confirmation of what was already suspected in the field – one in five children had a mental health condition and over 80 per cent of these kids could not access the care they needed. In what other area of paediatric health care would such neglect be tolerated?

In the last 30 years, many efforts have been undertaken to redesign a system that has struggled to meet rising demand and deliver care in a timely, patient and family centered approach. And despite these efforts, the results of the recently released 2019 OCHS Update disappointingly tell the story that we have not made significant progress – the numbers have not changed. But change in health care requires tenacity and perseverance, and despite these recent findings, I remain optimistic that in the coming decade the story will be different – it already is.

In one of our offerings this week, Dr. Suneeta Monga, Associate Chief of Psychiatry, writes about the extraordinary increases in mental health patient volumes seen at SickKids. Over the past two years, we have managed these unprecedented increases only because of the revitalized collaboration between physicians and clinicians across Mental Health, the Emergency Department and our colleagues in Paediatrics, Neuroscience and other inpatient units that have helped in this effort.

There are other promising responses to the rising need in care, including:
  • A redesign of our Urgent Care Team who, with the Mental Health Inpatient leadership, collaborate with the SickKids Emergency Department.
  • The launch of the first Canadian Suicide Prevention Study for children and youth – a critical investment given suicide remains the second leading cause of death in adolescents.
  • Requests for mental health consultations across the hospital have nearly doubled in the last four years and offer an increasingly important element in the effective management of complex medical patients with concurrent mental health issues, a previously under-recognized population.
  • From a research perspective, both the Centre for Brain & Mental Health and the Department of Psychiatry continue to launch innovative projects and initiatives that will advance the field from neurons to neighborhoods. 
  • Outside the hospital, SickKids CCMH recently announced a major restructuring of intensive services that will lead to a 30 per cent increase in the number of families served – one of the largest restructuring efforts to have been undertaken in community mental health in many years. 
As we all know, health care reform is a major part of the provincial government agenda, Mental Health is a key priority over the next 10 years and featured across all health care reform, including the Ontario Health Teams. In the past, mental health and mental illness were topics that were avoided and stigmatized. Today, while the challenges are great, it is gratifying to see that mental health is now a priority across health care, education, the private sector and philanthropy. 

This week, I invite you to read articles from our brain and mental health experts, and join us in highlighting the importance of mental health here at SickKids, SickKids CCMH and across the country.