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CHEO sees record demand for youth mental health services

Ottawa hospitals are seeing a record demand for mental health services among our young people.

CHEO says visits to its emergency department are up 78% over four years. 3,162 adolescents and teenagers came to CHEO's Emergency department over the last year in crisis, suffering from anxiety, psychosis, and suicidal thoughts. Referrals for outpatient care have increased 56% and hospital admissions among this vulnerable group of young people have jumped nearly 25%.

Stephanie Mutschler has been to CHEO’s Emergency Department many a time with her two teenagers, both suffering from mental health issues.

“We've been there probably thirty-five times in a span of two years,” she says, “every time in crisis when we arrived at CHEO.”

The rising crisis is a trend that CHEO has seen since 2009 with emergency visits now up 78%. It's the highest number of visits among all of Ontario's pediatric hospitals.

Alex Munter is the president and CEO of CHEO, “We're trying to make the dollars we have go further but for sure this is an area where there needs to be investment,” says Munter, “and the good news, if there is good news, is that when you invest early with kids you can change the trajectory of their lives.”

Sadly, that investment came too late for Jamie Hubley. After years of bullying, and depression, the 15-year-old killed himself. His father, city councilor Allan Hubley says while the increase in the numbers of kids seeking help is shocking, it may be good news.

"Because it means young people are getting the message to come forward and reach out for help,” says Hubley.

Dr. Rob Milin is a psychiatrist at The Royal who works with adolescents and youth with mental health issues. He says those looking for help have more complex issues now. The Royal has seen significant changes in the reasons why 16 to 18-year-olds need care. In the past year, the hospital has seen a 371% increase in youth presenting with anxiety disorders, 158% increase in mood disorders and a 150% increase in youth with suicidality and emotional dysregulation. He says in the past, there were few kids who couldn’t attend school because of a mental health disorder.

"Now we have students who come to us who may not have been in school for a year or two years sometimes.”

What's causing these crises in our kids no one is really sure. The push is on to increase resources in our region. Stephanie Mutschler says parents need to push, too.

“Ask questions and get involved,” she says.

Joanne Schnurr, CTV Ottawa

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