TORONTO — A new multi-million-dollar initiative is tackling the mysteries of a young, depressed brain.
The Cundill Centre for Child and Youth Depression, launched by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, will harness the knowledge of researchers from around the globe to alleviate depression in young people.
Children and youth’s unique mental health needs have been overlooked for too long, says Peter Szatmari, chief of CAMH’s Child, Youth and Family Program and head of the new centre.
“There are many, many differences both in the reason that kids get depressed and in the ability to identify kids and to treat them,” Szatmari said .
Kids and youth’s brains are rapidly changing, which can lead to “critical windows of vulnerability,” he said. When that vulnerability is combined with significant or traumatic life events, it can trigger depression or mood disorders.
Most treatments for mood disorders were developed to treat adults, said Szatmari, and those treatments have largely been extended to treat young people without much consideration for their unique needs.
Re-analysis of a 2001 study of the use of now-common antidepressants, for example, found them to be less safe and less efficacious for young people than the study originally suggested.
On average, one in five Canadians will experience a mental health or addiction problem in any given year, according to CAMH statistics. Seventy per cent of mental health problems begin during childhood or adolescence, while the 15 to 24 age group is more likely to experience mental health or substance use disorders than any other.
And when depression is untreated, it can be fatal: Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 29, according to Statistics Canada. In 90 per cent of suicide cases where coroners could determine an outcome, mental illness has been found to play a role.
The Cundhill Centre is funded for the next seven years by a $15 million gift from the Peter Cundill Foundation.
“Through our international advisory board we’re going to be identifying the best people in the world in child and youth depression and we’re going to bring those people together to work as a team to solve some of these problems,” Szatmari said.
It’s supposed to evaluate and implement new methods of prevention, screening and treatment. And disseminating the new information it obtains is just as important, Szatmari said.
“There’s no use collecting this information and having it sit on a shelf somewhere,” he said.
“People are doing great work, but they’re working in isolation. I think one of our jobs is to build a team, people working together, sharing information, sharing their expertise, so that internationally, by working together we can get to the important solutions a lot faster.”
Read more: Stress, anxiety plaguing Canadian youth
The CAMH Foundation has also launched a social media campaign using the hashtag #stopsuicide to raise awareness and money to prevent for child and youth depression.
Dan O’Shaughnessy, whose brother killed himself in 2003, appears in the campaign.
“With the addition of the Cundill Centre for Child and Youth Depression and this important campaign, this is the most significant effort being made to increase the efforts to prevent suicide in Canada today,” said O’Shaughnessy in a release.
“If we give hope to one youth, it will be worth it.”
The campaign invites people to become a “change agent” for mental health, “a special group of dedicated supporters, researchers and advocates who are passionate about stopping mental illness from destroying lives.”
WATCH BELOW: CAMH’s campaign to encourage awareness and treatment of mental health and prevent suicide