About 58,000 B.C. children in need of mental health care are not getting the services they need, says child psychiatrist Dr. Charlotte Waddell.
The Simon Fraser University professor spoke at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s conference B4Stage4: Changing The Way We Think About Mental Health and Addictions that concluded Wednesday at the Victoria Conference Centre.
Waddell said about 84,000 children ages four to 17 in B.C. have mental disorders, but that 70 per cent — about 58,000 — are not being treated.
Such shortfalls would never be tolerated in the area of infectious diseases, childhood diabetes or cancer and should no longer be tolerated in mental health, she said.
Exacerbating the shortfall, she said, is the fact that many effective interventions remain unavailable (such as cognitive behavioural therapy), harmful treatments continue (including inappropriate prescribing of anti-psychotics), and fragmented services persist.
Funding for childhood mental health should increase three-fold “to reach all children with mental disorders, not just the current 30 per cent” who are receiving treatment, Waddell said.
“We couldn’t eradicate all mental illness, but we could greatly reduce by tens of thousands the number of young people that are affected, and greatly increase by tens of thousands the number of people who go on to flourish after childhood,” she said.
Spending by the province on children’s mental health, excluding autism spectrum disorder, was an estimated $79 million in 2014, out of $44 billion in total spending, Waddell said. And where $900 per child is spent on children with mental disorders (excluding autism), $6,000 to $22,000 is spent per child with autism spectrum disorder — an amount that has gone up ten-fold in the past 10 years, she said.
With a provincial election coming up in May, Waddell said it’s an opportune time for advocating for more mental-health services for children and funding to address the socio-economic inequities that affect mental health.
Also needed is a co-ordinated and comprehensive range of effective treatments at each stage of development — prenatal, childhood and adolescence — and new investments in prevention programs and monitoring of outcomes, she said.
Waddell pointed out that three of the most common mental-health conditions in children and adolescents — anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and substance-use disorders — are also three of the most preventable.
Conference delegate Sarah Hanson, a psychiatric nurse and manager of wellness services at the University of B.C. in Prince George, said despite her education, experience, connections and ability to pay for services, there were times she felt lost as a parent when her daughter was diagnosed with ADHD.
“I have a degree in psychology and a diploma as a psychiatric nurse and I was not prepared,” Hanson said. “There were days I wasn’t able to parent my daughter very well, and I think about the parents who don’t have resources.”
At age six, her daughter asked her Grade 1 teacher: “What’s wrong with me? Because I’m not like these other people.”
Had there been a camp to learn how to best parent a child with ADHD, Hanson said she would have happily signed up.
Her daughter is now 21 and able to cope well with her disorder and advocate for herself. She wants to become a social worker.
During the question-and-answer period, Hanson said a lot has changed over the past 15 years in terms of awareness around mental health but that access to effective treatments — such as cognitive behaviour therapy for anxiety, for example — remains restricted.
In many cases, she said, the system hasn’t been able to sustain and build programs.
• The Ministry of Children and Family Development’s mental-health service for children and youth provides assessment and treatment for children of all ages —
• Children’s Mental Health Research Quarterly provides information aimed at policymakers, practitioners and families, with frequently updated resources on a range of topics — childhealthpolicy.ca/ the-quarterly
• Cognitive behavioural therapy resources — Jane Garland’s Taming Worry Dragons