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Some ‘falling through cracks’ as they age out of youth mental health services: Sask. advocate

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WATCH: Saskatchewan’s children and youth advocate says changes are needed to improve the transition between youth and adult mental health services in the province – Apr 1, 2022

Saskatchewan’s children and youth advocate says changes are needed to improve the transition between youth and adult mental health services in the province.

It’s a matter the provincial government is now promising to review.

Lisa Broda, the Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth released “Desperately Waiting” Tuesday.

“Most often a young person’s time with the youth mental health service ends at their 18th birthday, and at this time they’re often told they have to access adult mental health services,” Broda said while presenting her report.

Read more: Sask. child and youth advocate releases new report focusing on mental health and addictions

“For young adults facing a myriad of other challenges related to this period such as aging out of care, finding affordable housing and paying bills, going to the psychiatrist might be the last thing on their mind.”

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The report details 14 recommendations designed to address “gaps and challenges in service provision” concerns regarding outcomes such as self-harm, suicidal ideation, attempts and completed suicides.

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Among them, is a recommendation to address findings that young people transitioning to the adult system when they turn 18 “can result in barriers related to waitlists and lack of mental health support on a continuum of care basis.”

“Increase the age of transition to 25,” the recommendation reads, “and allow young adults to maintain treatment by their child/youth service providers until they are connected to a parallel adult service.”

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The Saskatchewan Health Authority’s (SHA) youth mental health and addiction services in Regina and Saskatoon are provided to youth aged 12 to 18.

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Broda said that many youth, when they turn 18, find themselves on waitlists for SHA psychologists and psychiatrists while expensive private practitioners remain out of reach.

“One of our young people at our media conference said that it’s atrocious to get counselling after you turn 18 because you have to start all over again,” Broda told Global News in a separate interview Friday.

“What that speaks to is a break in the system.”

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Broda also cites evidence in her report documenting how a person’s brain development occurs well into their 20s.

She said that while some clinicians will treat a youth patient past their 18th birthday, that situation is “certainly not the standard.”

“The policies tell us they’re moving out of the youth system and into the adult system and they’re starting over, and that’s what’s happening,” she said.

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“That magical 18th birthday shouldn’t be where you have to move and be catapulted into the next system.”

Broda added in her report that “pitfalls could be avoided if transitions are based on the readiness of the client, are carefully planned for and delayed until there can be a seamless hand-off from one system to the other.”

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While he didn’t commit to making the changes, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Everett Hindley said he is examining them.

“We’re taking a close look at all the recommendations. We want to make sure we’re acting as quickly as we can on this but we also want to make sure we’re getting this right,” Hindley said Wednesday.

“And in that middle-tier area, there does appear to be a gap in services, and we need to try to fill that space where a child or youth may not be in need of intensive therapy but clearly are still struggling with some mental health issues.”

He added that communication between the various branches of government involved in delivering mental health services needs to be improved.

“Clearly we need to do a better job of that,” he said.

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“We do have some funding to address that, and that is the mental health and addictions information system funding to help bring that system across the board to share information between mental health providers across the province so that is a seamless transfer of information as we’re trying to help people.”

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Saskatchewan Opposition Deputy Leader Nicole Sarauer weighed in on the matter as well Wednesday, emphasizing the importance of Hindley’s pledge to improve intragovernmental communication.

“It’s a really important piece of the puzzle to make sure that at no stage in the child’s life do they fall through the cracks in the ministry government system. That’s why it’s really important that ministries work collaboratively,” she said.

Read more: Report calls for better oversight at youth group homes in Saskatchewan

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One of those branches of government also responsible for responding to the issues surrounding youth mental health is the Ministry of Education.

Education Minister Dustin Duncan also weighed in on the report, saying he accepts its recommendation that the province increase the presence of mental health support in Saskatchewan high schools.

“This year’s budget will allow for that to begin,” Duncan said Thursday.

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“The supports for learning that we’ve increased by $6 million in this year’s budget is going towards paying for additional positions in schools, so that would be psychologists and other positions.”

Asked how big of an impact the investment could have, Duncan estimated that as many as “15-20” new psychologists could be hired.

He added that Saskatchewan’s Mental Health Capacity Building program is also being expanded this year, to the tune of an additional $800,000, which he said will expand mental health support in some Saskatchewan schools.

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