The demand for psychological services grew over 50 per cent in 2022, the Ontario Psychological Association said Monday, adding that Ontarians are increasingly turning to privately delivered care for help.
But for Jeannie Gheller, a parent from London, Ont., “it’s been impossible” to find her now 18-year-old daughter the proper mental health support she needs.
According to the mother, the family has been searching for more than a year for intensive inpatient mental health treatment for their daughter, whose erratic behaviour and suicide attempts began when she was just 12 years old.
Having since escalated since 2021 and more recently been diagnosed with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, Gheller said that despite excessively looking, the process of finding her daughter the proper treatment has not been easy.
“We keep getting turned away because of her age,” she said.
“We’ve been unable to secure any kind of treatment for her because we were told that she was either too high-needs for any of the facilities that we could get into, or that she would be aging out of any intensive services that may be provided for her,” Gheller said.
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Due to her daughter’s increasing self-harm behaviours, she has been in and out of hospital, either by checking herself out of treatment programs or being discharged because of violence.
In August 2022, Gheller says a referral was made to youth in-patient services in Hamilton and Niagara, but, just like other attempts in accessing available support, the family continues to wait.
“She’s at the London Health Science Centre, kind of just waiting there because her behaviours are too dangerous to release her,” Gheller said.
“They’ve really done everything that they can and exhausted all their resources to try to get her help. So much so that they know that they can’t discharge her because she will die either from her thoughts or from her sadness,” she said. “They’re holding her until we can hopefully come up with a plan or get her into some kind of treatment facility now that she’s 18.”
However, the challenge is, according to Gheller, her daughter has officially aged out of edibility for youth programs and is now on an adult waitlist.
Her family has been told to expect yet another wait of at least 12 to 18 months.
“We’re extremely nervous and scared that her thoughts are going to honestly kill her. … I don’t have that kind of time, she doesn’t have that kind of time, [so] we’re very desperate to have help for her now,” Gheller said.
A Community Services Coordination Network intensive service review determined that “there is, indeed, a gap in services in that there were no community-funded options appropriate in our area that could provide service to (the child) at this time.”
After hearing the Gheller’s story and others from local families who are desperate to find lasting, effective support for their children, London-West MPP Peggy Sattler is calling on the Ontario government for better publicly funded support in children’s mental health care.
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On Friday, Sattler wrote a letter to Michael Tibollo, associate minister of mental health and addictions, outlining a need for change.
“Minister, these families are exhausted by their endless interactions with family physicians, medical professionals, paramedics, hospital staff, police, agency workers, custody and court officials, and more, which come at an extraordinarily high cost to public resources but never result in help for their children,” she wrote. “They are drained by weeks of waiting for meetings to be coordinated, only to be abandoned by a system that tells them their children’s needs are too complex or behaviours too violent for the services available, with no other treatment options provided.
“Where are these families supposed to turn if the publicly funded mental health programs for children and youth are not able to meet their needs?” Sattler’s letter continued. “How can these families be expected to support their children at home without access to appropriate community services? I implore you to direct staff from your ministry to contact these parents and provide assistance, before their children are lost forever.”
Additionally, Sattler called on the minister to “personally meet with these parents to hear their concerns” and in understanding their “nightmarish reality” in trying to navigate the system. She also appealed for his “intervention to help ensure that our community has the intensive mental health services that these young people and their families deserve.”
Sattler told Global News that while some families she mentioned in her letters have received calls from Tibollo, the Gheller family has yet to hear from the government.
“I’m going to keep advocating on behalf of these families and advocating on behalf of all of the people in London who are going through the same kind of struggle with trying to access mental health supports,” Sattler said.
In a statement to Global News, the ministry of health said the government is working to better support the mental health and well-being of all Ontarians through the Roadmap to Wellness, a “plan to build a modern, world-class mental health and addictions system.”
In 2019-20, the ministry said that $525 million was invested into the plan in “new base funding” to support the following key areas:
- $130 million for child and youth mental health
- over $80 million for community mental health, including Ontario Structured Psychotherapy, non-police mobile crisis services, mobile mental health clinics, early psychosis intervention, and peer support
- over $93 million for addictions treatment
- $9.05 million for youth wellness hubs for youth aged 12 to 25 experiencing substance use issues
- $16.6 million for eating disorders services and supports
The government is also implementing the Addictions Recovery Fund — a “one-time investment of $90 million over three years to boost capacity in addictions services” — in response to the “pandemic’s impact on substance use.”
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However, going back to the study released Monday by the Ontario Psychological Association, requests for mental health support for children and youth services increased by 104 per cent between 2021 and 2022.
“Skyrocketing demand among younger age groups reflects a high level of unmet need within communities,” the study read.
“I’d really like for minister [Michael Tibollo] and premier Doug Ford to recognize the urgency of not only my situation, but other families in London,” Gheller said. She added that she’d also like the government “to recognize how broken the system is, especially for those that are 16 to 17 years old, and those that are too old for the youth programs, but too young for the adult ones.”
The ministry said that as it continues “the work to implement the Roadmap, we are committed to working with health service providers, the Centre of Excellence within Ontario Health (OH) and the OH regional planners to allocate funding across Ontario and address regional needs.”