A program that helps teenagers and young adults dealing with mental illness on southern Vancouver Island received a $150,000 lift from Coast Capital Savings Thursday.
The program provides prompt support for young people showing symptoms of early psychosis such as sleep disruptions, hallucinations and delusional behaviour. Families, friends, teachers or the young people themselves can contact the program and get a referral for assessment and possible treatment.
The donation will be used to create new ways of getting information about the intervention program and other resources into the hands of young people from ages 13 to 30.
The new communication tools could include an interactive website or a mobile application for smartphones and tablet computers that helps patients understand and manage their symptoms or connect with other people facing similar challenges.
“For any of us who have youth or who have worked with youth, we know that you can have all kinds of amazing resources, but if they’re not accessible to the youth in a way that they find helpful, they will not use them,” said Elaine Halsall, manager of child, youth and family mental health with the Vancouver Island Health Authority.
“I have a 17-year-old and 14-year-old and they live on their phones, and they interact with all of their social networks that way,” said Jay-Ann Fordy, Coast Capital’s chief human resources officer. “So having something that’s digital and accessible, I think, is really important.”
Health officials hope to make use of existing communications tools that have proved effective in other jurisdictions, such as the mindcheck.ca website run by the Fraser Health Authority.
“We won’t be re-inventing the wheel,” Halsall said.
She noted that people who seek help through the early psychosis intervention program do not face the same waits for service that exist elsewhere in the child and youth mental health system on southern Vancouver Island.
In two recent cases, Greater Victoria families said their children were sent home from the emergency department at Victoria General Hospital despite being in obvious mental distress. The children then faced lengthy delays to get into a psychiatric facility.
But Halsall said that if somebody contacts the early psychosis intervention program, they get a call back within 48 hours and are referred to a clinician within 10 days and can then receive care in the community.
“It’s a very quick, responsive program because that’s the key,” she said.
Research shows that the earlier that youth get help for psychosis, the better the results. “We’ve seen that proven in our clinics, too,” Halsall said. “When kids come forward with their families and are able to access what they need to access, their recovery is far quicker and much more successful.”
Coast Capital donated the money through the Victoria Hospitals Foundation’s Building Care Together campaign, which is more than halfway to its goal of $25 million for equipment at the new Patient Care Centre at Royal Jubilee Hospital. Fordy said the credit union dedicates a portion of its charitable contributions to building a richer future for youth, of which mental health is a key component.
Former judge Ted Hughes, who co-chairs the campaign, called the donation gratifying and said his work with the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness highlighted the profound need for better mental health services in the region.
“So often, there hasn’t been a place that we now have available here,” he said. “More is needed, yes, unquestionably, but we’re carrying on with this campaign and we’ll do more.”
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