Mental health plan aims to help youth

It’s been seven months since Morgan Richardson lost her sister and best friend.

She recently celebrated her 17th birthday and is handling the pressures of being in high school and figuring out where to go to school next — on top of grieving after her sister Daron, 14, took her own life last November.

“We try not to crowd her,” said their dad, Ottawa Senators assistant coach Luke Richardson.

“She’s dealing with a lot. And 17-year-olds do not want to be with their parents 24/7.”

And if they can’t — or don’t want to — talk to their parents, they might open up to mental health professionals.

The McGuinty government released a mental health and addictions strategy Wednesday that will see $257 million invested in front-line care and community-based services over three years.

The initiative targets children and youth, focusing on early identification and support, quick access to high-quality services, and helping vulnerable kids with unique needs.

More than 50,000 children and their families are expected to benefit.

The move is welcomed by the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

“CHEO’s mental health services continue to be busier than they ever have before, so today’s announcement is good news and a solid beginning,” said president and CEO Michel Bilodeau.

Last February, the Richardson family teamed up with the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health, creating the Daron Richardson Fund, which supports an early identification and intervention program.

Richardson said he’s pleased with the announcement from the province because many youth are willing to talk things out but don’t know where to turn.

“I think some people are in a harder place where they can’t, and those are the people that we’ve got to try to reach out to and get help to,” he said.

Dawn Paxton, superintendent of learning support services at the Ottawa Carleton District School Board, said “it’s right and it’s responsible” to ask for help.

“The research is very clear that the students will go to a teacher first — we encourage that,” said Paxton.

And while it’s too late for Daron, “if there’s changes being made and families don’t have to go through what we’ve gone through — and are going to go through the rest of our lives — it’ll make a difference … and there’s a bit of a silver lining in a dark cloud that we live in,” said Richardson.

A few mental health facts:

  • Youth ages 15 to 24 are three times more likely to have a substance abuse problem than people older than 24
  • About 24% of deaths in youth ages 15 to 24 are due to suicide
  • For 70% of adults with mental health issues, their symptoms developed during childhood or adolescence

Key investments for children and youth include:

  • Placing mental health workers and nurses with mental health expertise in schools, benefiting over 9,000 kids
  • Training educators, social workers and other professionals to identify mental health issues early on
  • Providing short-term therapy and crisis intervention in community agencies to help 13,000 more kids and reduce wait lists
  • Expanding video counselling services to rural communities
  • Hiring aboriginal mental health workers to work with 4,000 more First Nations kids
  • Keeping 2,300 youth out of the justice system by adding more mental health court workers who can refer them to community-based services such as clinical counselling
  • Adding more mental health workers on college and university campuses to help 16,000+ youth transitioning from high school

— Source: Ministry of Children and Youth Services

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