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Child and adolescent mental health services in high demand at Alberta Children’s Hospital

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WATCH: The number of children and youth seeking mental health supports is on the rise. As Jill Croteau reports, those on the front lines say Alberta's new centre for child & adolescent mental health is needed now more than ever – Mar 22, 2021

Academic and social stressors are heavy burdens for high school students. Young people are experiencing anxiety at a growing rate, according to recent statistics from Alberta Health Services.

Steph Hancock is a 22-year-old University of Calgary student.

Steph Hancock. Jill Croteau/Global News

In high school, she struggled with mental health and now supports other teens as a patient advisor at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

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“A lot of people have a notion either you’re fine or you’re not fine,” Hancock said. “When your mental health is deteriorating, it’s a gradual process, and when it progresses, it can get to a full-blown crisis.”

Read more: ‘Suicide can happen to anyone and any age’: Warning signs to look for and tools to talk about it

Hancock is concerned about challenges for youth in the midst of a pandemic.

Hancock’s Grade 12 graduation picture. Courtesy: Steph Hancock

“I sought help being in a group knowing they were going through similar things and there was something comforting knowing you’re not alone. It’s why I’m passionate about helping them,” Hancock said.

AHS spokesperson James Wood said each child or youth that presents to the emergency department is assessed and directed to the appropriate follow-up care.

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“Child and adolescent mental health inpatient services in Calgary is currently experiencing high demand, however, this is not unusual,” Wood said.

“COVID-19 and the public health measures continue to have an impact on the mental health on youth in Alberta.”

Wood said no child or youth who needs help is ever turned away, and there are many other services available to provide support and treatment.

Read more: ‘Anxiety and depression are increasing’: Alberta doctor sees spike in mental health visits

The Canadian Mental Health Association has added resources to meet the demand. YouthSMART is a mental health-focused program for junior and high school students.

“We are seeing an increase for youth services and added additional staff to our team in order to meet community demand,” said Ashley Lamantia, YouthSMART program lead.

“Their coping strategies have been limited based on restrictions — youth sports and activities and friends and clubs and all those things that help build resiliency have been limited in the past year.”

The new Centre for Child & Adolescent Mental Health will alleviate the growing pressures.

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“Crews are busy working as construction on the Centre for Child & Adolescent Mental Health continues,” Wood said.

“Construction on the centre is expected to be complete in summer of 2022, and it is anticipated patients will start receiving care by the end of the year.”

It’s welcome news to Hancock, who said the aesthetics will be very inviting.

“There’s stigma about the hospital. I thought, ‘I don’t have a broken bone. Why would I go into the emergency?’ This centre will provide the middle ground between going to your family doctor and going to the hospital,” Hancock said.

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