“We’ve had an increase of 24 per cent,” explained Katherine Moxness, director of youth services at the West Island health authority.
It amounts to almost 500 cases between July to September. According to Moxness, clinics on the territory see around 3,000 youth annually.
It’s one of the reasons the Quebec government decided to open a new youth drop-in centre in Kirkland, the second in the West Island after one in the borough of LaSalle.
Provincial social services minister Lionel Carmant says there are now 22 such centres in the city.
“Youth 12 to 25 will be able to get mental care support, psychosocial support, with or without appointment,” he told Global News during a press conference to announce the opening of the facility in Kirkland.
Authorities explain that each centre also has satellite offices in places like schools and employment centres, and that the service is another layer of support to help catch youth before they fall through the cracks.
Ina Winkelmann, the West Island health authority’s associate director of its mental health and addictions program, blames most of the problems on the effects of isolation during the pandemic.
“The most common request for support is really around mental health issues,” she explained. “So feeling anxious, or having depression. The second most common is around sexual health.”
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Megan Semenchuk, executive director at Big Brothers Big Sisters of West Island agrees, adding that she’s also seeing anxiety brought on by the state of the economy.
“Youth and families in general who are facing issues with food insecurity, difficulties paying rent because parents have lost a job and so they need to get a part-time job to help out,” she pointed out.
She and health authorities say the challenge for workers at the drop-in centres is to reach youth, because of the stigma associated with getting social service help.
“A lot of these youth that we see as well, they already have what they label as workers in their lives, like social workers,” said Semenchuk.
West Island health authority officials stress that’s why they are focused on outreach, by contacting schools, speaking to kids in parks and using a mobile service to help kids who might not have access to transportation to get to the centres.
Community workers like Semenchuk agree that a neutral space like the drop-in centres, away from places like the clinics, is valuable, but that more is needed to help youth.
“I think the provincial government can help out by providing funding to organizations which are already in place,” she argued.
She concedes, however, that the drop-in centres are a good start.