Mental health of young Canadians is a \’time bomb\’

The Toronto Center for Addiction and Mental Health is one of Canada\’s largest mental health research facilities. (AFP)

Canada is grappling with a time bomb of violence, addiction and suicide linked to failing mental health services for its young people.

In the streets and subways of Toronto, Canada\’s largest city, an ultra-modern metropolis that serves as a window into the nation\’s economy and culture, many young people can be seen wandering, staring into space, screaming incomprehensibly.

Newspapers are filled with reports of unprovoked attacks on strangers, opioid overdoses, and other social ills related to addiction and mental health problems.

This was an acute phenomenon in large US cities before it even went north of the border.
In Canada, decades of chronic underfunding of mental health services have left many young people stranded in the wake of the punitive Covid-19 pandemic, sometimes with fatal consequences.

\”The number of young people with mental health and addiction issues across Canada has grown exponentially for more than a decade,\” says Bjug Borgundvaag, an emergency room physician at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.

\”We try to do our best, but we have very limited things we can offer,\” she says.

In Toronto, the situation has reached a crisis level, so much so that former mayor John Tory has called for a national mental health summit to address it.

\”Historically, we\’ve underfunded mental health,\” says David Gratzer of the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

\”In Canada, for every dollar we spend on health care, we spend seven or eight cents on mental health care,\” which is far less than in most other developed countries, he notes.

Canada made a big mistake in the 1960s and 1970s by eliminating many hospital beds for people with mental illness, said Gratzer, who is a psychiatrist.

In 2022, the demand for psychological services in Ontario increased by 50%, with more than one in two young people living with a mental illness.

Charities have tried to fill the gap left by shortages in public services, but have been unable to keep up with the large influx of people in need.

\”It\’s a time bomb,\” said Jacques Charland of Quebec\’s Ecoute Entraide helpline.

\”It\’s a crisis because it affects all aspects of the population. In the young adult and youth population, the numbers have become much more alarming,\” laments Nzinga Walker, executive director of Stella\’s Place.

Located just a few blocks from Toronto\’s Chinatown, Stella\’s Place offers free mental health support to individuals aged 16-29 with psychological distress.

\”Services aren\’t available. Almost everywhere you look for help, there\’s a waiting list, and when someone has a mental health need or a mental health crisis, the last thing you want to see happen is you\’re going into a waiting list,” adds Walker.

Stella\’s Place opened in 2013 and recently moved into a shiny new facility, where young people can access counseling, group programs and psychiatric services.

Kat Romero, her long hair streaked with blue highlights, says the facility has changed her life.

\”I felt lost and he taught me different types of coping mechanisms to help deal with the crisis and also maintain my day-to-day mental well-being,\” she said, a support dog at her feet.

Today, Romero helps the center create programs.

The organization is also training young people on how to reach certain communities where mental illness is stigmatized.

\”If you come from immigrant backgrounds, coming to Canada is really difficult. You are told not to seek help and that you should be strong and all the things that are happening to you are normal,\” confides Chantelle Cruzat-Whervin, a black customer at Stella\’s Place .

\”For people of color, I feel like we don\’t have access to a lot of resources,\” she added.


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