The province is spending more than $4.2 million to help improve mental health services for children and youth.
The first phase of the funding, announced Monday, will be expanding services at the Children’s Hospital over the next three years.
The money will go to hiring more nurses, occupational therapists and social workers with the goal of making treatment for youth in crisis more accessible, the province said in a statement.
The government also hopes to boost urgent consultation in rural and remote health-care centres to lower the number of transfers from rural communities.
Dr. Laurence Katz, medical director of child and adolescent mental health at the Health Sciences Centre, said the demand for mental health assessment and treatment for young people has increased significantly in the past 15 years.
“I want to emphasize this is not a unique experience in Manitoba,” Dr. Katz said.
“This is true across Canada, the United States, and most of the western world.”
It’s not clear whether the rates of mental disorders have changed over time or if we’re changing our methods of understanding and diagnosing that has lead to the upswing, he said.
“What is much higher in youth, there are studies that show distress is much higher in youth.”
“That may or may not equate to a mental disorder, but those rates of distress are pushing up demand for services, but they’re not exactly the same thing.”
The ratio of boys and girls developing clinical depression during puberty is 1:1, but rises to 2:1 for girls afterwards, although the reasons aren’t understood.
When he was practicing in Manitoba in 1999, in children’s emergency they did 250 psychiatric consultations, he said. Last year, that number was closer to 1,450.
“I can’t say that’s the level of demand across all outpatient services,” Dr. Katz said.
“That’s just one context, but that gives some idea to the numbers we’re trying to deal with.”
He expects the first changes to roll out in early 2020.
The second phase includes developing a clinic for patient followup, said the province.
In addition to providing ongoing care, it will ensure patients are taking medication, and care for those discharged from emergency but who still require a psychiatric assessment.
The province also says a 12-week multidisciplinary crisis treatment program will be expanded.
The second phase of the funding is expected to begin in the next fiscal year.