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New mental health clinic for youth opens in Winnipeg amid long waits in public system

Cocoon Clinic's executive director and psychiatric nurse Shea Silva says she intends on alleviating the day-to-day mental health struggles of youth waiting for more specialized care. Getty (File)

A newly opened private mental health clinic for youth in Winnipeg is hoping to play a key role in helping families struggling with obtaining care in the public system plagued by long wait times — although one expert says it won’t solve all the problems at hand.

At present, Cocoon Clinic is a one-woman show. Shea Silva is the executive director and a psychiatric nurse by trade. She is hoping to expand the two-week-old project.

Meanwhile, she says the response to the opening has been positive. “What we’re hearing from parents is just relief, a huge relief to be able to get in to see somebody quickly.”

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Wait times range from one month to more than a year at the publicly-funded Manitoba Adolescent Treatment Centre, depending on how acute the need is, says a Shared Health spokesperson. And with the added stress of the pandemic, wait times have increased.

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Silva hopes the clinic can step in sooner. She says with her experience as a psychiatric nurse she can do an initial assessment that is something not usually done unless a youth is in crisis. The clinic wants “to really bring that earlier in the journey to get a good sense of things so that they don’t end up in that place,” Silva told Global News.

As a nurse, rather than a therapist, she will not be providing therapy. Instead, according to the clinic website, she plans to draw on her understanding of different types of therapy to make recommendations to a client’s eventual therapist. Silva aims to meet with clients during what she says can be a distressing waiting period for an appointment with a psychiatrist, psychologist or therapist, to talk through medication options and discuss coping strategies.

“Sometimes we’re seeing that they’ve been struggling for a really long time and we’re able to provide some immediate strategies and interventions that can make things better today.”

The Manitoba Pediatric Society (MPS) says more large-scale solutions are necessary, as the need for youth mental health services is on the rise.

Click to play video: 'Educating youth on prioritizing their mental health'
Educating youth on prioritizing their mental health

“This is a major problem, and it’s been a problem for years, but it has become a lot worse, especially with the pandemic, as we’ve been seeing a lot more anxiety, depression (and) eating disorders,” said MPS’s president, Dr. Marni Hanna.

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As a community paediatrician she says she refers multiple patients a day to MTC’s Centralized Intake Service.

However, access to services in Manitoba is “inadequate” and isn’t keeping up, she adds, pointing to the province’s lower-than-average psychologist per capita ratio, with access to mental health resources only worsening outside Winnipeg into rural Manitoba, Hanna said.

Shared Health is hiring five psychologists to help reduce wait times, two of whom are earmarked for children and teens, thanks to provincial funding announced in June, said a Shared Health spokesperson in an emailed statement.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Hanna countered. “We need a lot more than that.”

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“Children are where it’s at for helping with mental health problems, because if you can give them good coping strategies when they’re younger, then they turn into better functioning adults that have less need for extra resources.”

Hanna adds Cocoon Clinic’s rate of $150 an hour won’t be affordable for many families, especially those requiring continuous care. She wants to see the province improve coverage for mental health services, something Silva hopes could be on the table at the clinic.

“We absolutely recognize that mental health issues impact marginalized communities at a greater rate, and that includes people of lower socio-economic status who may not be able to afford our fee, and so it is absolutely our goal to be as available as possible,” Silva said.

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