More N.S. youth turning to ERs, hospitals for mental health issues

Above watch: A report shows ER visits for mental health issues among Canadians aged five to 24 jumped 45 per cent between 2006-2007 and 2013-2014. Julia Wong reports.

HALIFAX – More Canadian youth, including those in Nova Scotia, are turning to emergency rooms and being admitted into hospital for mental health issues.

A report released Thursday by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) shows ER visits for mental health issues among Canadians aged five to 24 jumped 45 per cent between 2006-2007 and 2013-2014.

Over the same seven-year period, rates of in-patient hospitalizations that involved at least one overnight stay rose 37 per cent for this age group.

A spokesperson for the IWK tells Global News that the children’s hospital has seen a similar trend over the last few years.

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Dr. Stan Kutcher, a psychiatry professor at Dalhousie University and a member of the expert advisory group that reviewed the report, said the data is worrying.

He said the reason for the jump is unclear but he has a few ideas.

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“One is young people are now realizing that they may have a problem and their families are realizing they may have a problem and that they are in need of treatment,” he said.

Kathleen Morris, the director of health system analysis for CIHI, said the trend for mental health is troubling, especially since hospital services for other conditions are declining. Morris added that mental health issues are not more common now than in previous years.

“It could be that we as a system are getting better at identifying and diagnosing kids or it could be that kids are feeling more confident they can go and seek help,” she said.

“We don’t know whether kids are using hospital services because they have no other choice or because they have very complex needs and the hospitals are the best place for them to get care.”

Laing House works with people from 16 to 30 years old who are dealing with mental health issues.

Co-ordinator Aaron Goodwin said he hears anecdotes about how some youth turn to emergency rooms and hospitals for help.

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“It’s a very common theme, especially when someone’s suicidal. Where else are they to go?”

Goodwin said he is not surprised to see the figures and hopes it will spur more attention towards prevention.

“When people are in crisis, they do need to access those supports and we need to recognize that they need to be better funded.”

Kutcher said there is a gap in care and youth should not have to turn to hospitals for help.

“While the increase in awareness [of mental health] issues has happened, there has been no corresponding increase in the availability of community-based mental health care for young people,” he said.

He said schools, community hubs and improved primary care are examples of where youth could get better care.

“If you need mental health care, it is very hard to get. It’s hard to access it. When you do get care, we do not know what kind of quality that kind of care you get actually is.”

The study also found the most frequent visitors are 10 to 17-year-olds. There was a 68 per cent increase amongst 10 to 14-year-olds and a 53 per cent increase amongst 15 to 17-year-olds.

– with files from Canadian Press


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