Funds needed for youth mental health

The Just for Kids Foundation is seeking funds to help pay for a social worker who helps kids in distress at the Montreal Children's Hospital

Funds needed for youth mental health

Photo credit: Getty Images

To help meet the growing demand for children’s mental health services, Just for Kids Foundation (JFK) is funding a social worker in the Emergency Department (ED) of the Montreal Children’s Hospital. The initiative is part of JFK’s commitment to improving mental health resources and was implemented on March 1, 2020, before the full effects of the first wave of the pandemic were even felt.

“Pre-pandemic, the head of social work told us there’s so many kids who are suffering,” said Lorie Blumer, Executive Director, Just for Kids Foundation. “[The hospital] really needed more social workers, especially ones who specialized in mental health as the Emergency Department was seeing kids as young as 6 years old coming in with suicidal ideation.”

The pandemic has exacerbated an already serious mental health crisis. In a letter to Premier Francois Legault in mid-May, top pediatricians asked that adolescent mental health be prioritized when making decisions about the pandemic. “Currently, nearly 40 per cent of the pediatric beds in our hospitals are occupied by adolescents suffering from depression, anxiety, and especially eating disorders (mainly anorexia),” the letter stated. “These numbers are more than double those of previous years, an unprecedented jump. When we look at the number of young people being followed for eating disorders, the statistics are even more striking, with cases quadrupling in our clinics since the beginning of the pandemic. There has also been a significant increase in emergency room visits for panic attacks and suicidal ideation in youth aged 12 to 18, as well as requests for mental health consultation to office-based pediatricians. Current mental health resources are not sufficient to support youth and their families.”

Contributing funds will help pay for a social worker to continue working at the hospital (the foundation has committed to funding for at least two years). If you would like to contribute, please visit jfkfoundation.ca/en/giving/

Kids have lost their support systems 

Since the onset of the pandemic and continuously changing health restrictions, school closures, changes in schedules, online schooling, and social isolation — anxiety and mental illness among children and youth has risen from previous years. Vulnerable children and youth are also experiencing an uncertain future and may be cut off from their usual support systems found at school and in the community.

Children First Canada’s Raising Canada 2020 report that tracks the top 10 threats to childhood shows that while suicide remains the second leading cause of death for youth aged 15 to 24, it is now the leading cause of death for children aged 10 to 14. The threat previously labeled “Suicide, depression and anxiety” in 2019, was renamed “Poor mental health” for the 2020 report and is listed as the second highest threat to Canadian youth, just after “Unintentional and preventable injuries.” Suicide rates continue to be significantly higher among First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth.

Other indications that children’s mental health may have worsened during the past year comes from Kids Help Phone. In a March 2, 2021 press release, the Canadian free e-mental health service reported providing mental health support through more than 4.5 million connections with Canadian youth in 2020 — an alarming increase from 1.9 million connections in 2019.

Financial support needed to continue funding long term

At the Children’s Emergency Department, the social worker who specializes in mental health acts as a facilitator between the medical team and the child’s family and plays a critical and central role in responding to and treating vulnerable patients.

Once a patient is triaged and assessed, the team will decide if it is safe for the patient to go home, or if they need to be admitted to the psychiatric inpatient unit. The social worker can also facilitate communication with community resources on behalf of the patients and parents.

To meet the growing demand for mental health services and facilitate a better transition with the night shift, the social worker is available from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. “I am enormously grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in these families lives,” said Ann Turcot, social worker at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

Blumer says the foundation hopes to continue to fund this important initiative as long as the need is there, but it needs financial support from the public.  “The support of our community is what helps to bridge the gap between basic government funding and much-needed resources at the Hospital.” Blumer said.