Canada needs a comprehensive child and youth mental health strategy
Mental illnesses can often be prevented from developing, or becoming more severe and difficult to treat, by offering help to young people
Mental illness is the most common illness found in Canada’s children and teens. We all know a young person who struggles with depression, anxiety, an addiction or a behavioural disorder. Mental illness causes high levels of distress in children and can significantly interfere with their lives. hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), addictions or schizophrenia.
Suicide most often occurs when mental illness - and the conditions that place children and teens at risk for mental illness - are not addressed. It’s crucial to instil hope in our young people and build awareness of the many solutions to their problems.
So how can we better support children with mental illness? How do we create hope and better lifelong health and success for this future generation?
It’s essential to develop and invest in a comprehensive child and youth mental health strategy at provincial and national levels. We need strategies to promote positive mental health and provide supports and services early in the illness. Home visiting in early childhood, for example, reduces depression, anxiety and use of substances in children.
Children require a warm, nurturing environment. High levels of stress damage the mental health of children. Prevention programs include positive parenting, home visiting, anti-bullying initiatives and mental health promotion in schools - all aimed at preventing mental illness from developing.
More than half of mental disorders have their roots in childhood, so increasing resources for children will reduce the burden of mental illness in adulthood.
Our study found that children with mental illnesses are more likely to have lower grades and less likely to graduate. They’re also more likely to be accused of a crime or to be victimized. They’re more likely to be from families living in social housing or receiving income assistance.
Increasing the mental health knowledge and skills of people working with children across education, social services and justice systems would mitigate the untoward effects of mental illness.
Canada spends too little on mental health compared to other developed countries. The Mental Health Commission of Canada recommends that nine per cent of health budgets should go to improving mental health services.
Investments in mental health and wellness for children and teens will go a long way toward creating hope and a brighter future. -TROYMEDIA
Mariette J. Chartier, RN, PhD, is a research scientist at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy and an assistant professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Manitoba. Chartier has published in the area of population health, mental health and prevention and early intervention programs for children and their parents. Marni Brownell, PhD, is an expert adviser with EvidenceNetwork.ca and professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba. She is also a senior research scientist with the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, and a research scientist with the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba.