Ontario youth with mental illness waiting months for help, auditor general finds

Click to play video: 'Hospital visits for mental health illness by children, youth ‘a growing problem’' Hospital visits for mental health illness by children, youth ‘a growing problem’
WATCH ABOVE: Hospital visits for mental health illness by children, youth ‘a growing problem’ – Nov 30, 2016

Ontario’s government watchdog says kids and teenagers struggling with severe mental health problems are languishing on hospital wait lists and the consequences can be devastating.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk found in her annual report that youth mental-health agencies have been overwhelmed by a 50 per cent spike in hospitalization cases since 2009 and the government has not analyzed the reasons behind the increase or taken steps to address it.

“It is crucial that the government do its best to understand the reasons for these troubling statistics and that it can provide timely and appropriate treatment and avoid the potential high social and financial cost of not dealing proactively with the issue,” Lysyk said in a statement Wednesday after tabling her report at Queen’s Park.

READ MORE: Ontario schools are missing ‘perfect opportunity’ to address mental health amid rash of youth suicides

The auditor general said it was troubling that many of the findings in the report were similar to those identified in audits from 2003. She noted the Ministry of Children and Youth Services continues to fund agencies based on “historical spending instead of the current mental health needs of the children and youth they serve.”

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Currently the ministry is spending $438 million to treat more than 120,000 children and youth across Ontario for mental health problems like depression, anxiety and eating disorders, among others.

WATCH: Ontario Auditor General report

Lysyk’s findings are consistent with a Global News investigation earlier this month that examined the mental health crisis facing young people in Ontario.

Global News found suicides in Ontario among 10 to 19 year olds rose from 54 in 2013 to 81 in 2014, according to the latest data from the provincial coroner’s office. And nearly 2,500 teenagers age 10 to 17 were hospitalized due to intentional self-harm from 2013 to 2014, up from just over 1,500 in 2010 to 2011.

READ MORE: Poor oversight of Ontario road and transit contracts cause for concern: auditor general

Kim Moran, CEO of Children’s Mental Health Ontario, said Lysyk’s report is a clear indication the Liberal government is turning its back on young people with mental health issues.

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“Ontario just isn’t prioritizing children and youth in desperate need of mental health services,” Moran told Global News. “The report articulated that children are waiting too long, but there hasn’t been any increases in resources to help these children.”

The CMHO released its own report on Tuesday, which found that more than 9,000 young people across the province are waiting anywhere from three months to a year and half for urgent mental health care.

“When kids wait too long for the care the problems can get more serious. That is probably the biggest concern,” she said. “Sadly, too many kids are dying by suicide. That’s what can happen when kids wait.”

The auditor general’s report looked at psychiatric hospital services in the province, specifically auditing four hospitals:

  • Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.
  • Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences in Whitby.
  • The Royal Ottawa Health Group in Ottawa and Brockville.
  • Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care in Penetanguishene.

READ MORE: What happens when mental health education isn’t taught to kids

At Ontario Shores, children had to wait more than three months to receive help for severe eating disorders. And at Waypoint, the wait list for one of its out-patient programs was so long in 2015/16, the hospital temporarily stopped adding new people.

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“Our audit of hospital records over the past five years found evidence of two people who died by suicide while waiting for help,” the report said, while not naming the hospital.

A shortage in psychiatric care in Ontario is also costing taxpayers. In 2015/2016 the government spent nearly $10 million to send 127 youths to the United States for treatment.

WATCH: Ontario man said he wished there was more of an emphasis on mental health education when he was in school

Click to play video: 'Dustin Garron: Mental health education was lacking in school' Dustin Garron: Mental health education was lacking in school
Dustin Garron: Mental health education was lacking in school – Nov 13, 2016

Her report found that funding for these four hospitals — which house roughly half of the long-term psychiatric beds in the province — hasn’t kept up with inflation, let alone the increase in demand.

Minister of Children and Youth Services Michael Coteau said he is committed to acting on recommendations outlined in the report.

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“While we have made significant progress in improving access to child and youth mental health services, we know there is more work to be done,” Coteau said in a statement. “Our government is committed to Moving on Mental Health, our action plan to deliver a co-ordinated and responsive system for parents and young people.”

The minister adds that that work is already underway including “a new funding model for children’s mental health services based on need, changes that will hold service providers more accountable to ensure efficient use of government resources, and better use of data to assess agency performance and improve services.”

However, the auditor general found that while some steps from the Moving on Mental Health plan have been implemented since 2012, the strategy has faced delays and it is unclear when it is expected to be fully implemented.

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