CRC Charlotte Waddell addresses BC lawmakers about lack of treatment for kids with mental disorders

June 27, 2014

FHS Associate Professor and Director of SFU’s Children’s Health Policy Centre Charlotte Waddell gave a stark message to the members of the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth of the Legislative Assembly of BC: Tens of thousands of BC’s children are experiencing mental health problems, but fewer than a third are receiving treatment.

“About 13 percent of kids are experiencing one or more mental disorders,” said Waddell, who also holds a Canada Research Chair in Children’s Health Policy. “That means the total population affected is about 84,000 in BC at any given time, and about 678,000 in Canada. And we’re serving fewer than one-third of them,” she said. That translates to only about 26,000 children and youth in BC and 212,000 in Canada that are or have received treatment.

Waddell emphasized that most mental health problems start well before adulthood and, in fact, many start well before adolescence.

 “Unspeakable losses and unspeakable severity are what we’re talking about,” she said. “If we don’t intervene and if we don’t intervene effectively these disorders persist, and they carry on throughout adulthood.” Consequences include: young people not finishing school,  or not being able to participate in the workforce. They also have increased physical health problems, and “early mortality is significantly increased in people with mental health problems,” she said. The impact on society is also very serious, with costs exceeding $50 billion annually in Canada.

A large part of the problem, Waddell said, is that Canada may spend $200 billion annually on health — but little of that goes to children and youth.

Waddell made five recommendations to the committee:

  • Acknowledge that mental disorders start at the beginning of life and provide a comprehensive range of evidence-based interventions at each stage of development, starting in early childhood.
  • Triple investments in evidence-based treatment services to reduce symptoms and impairment among all children and youth with established mental disorders.
  • Make equivalent investments in evidence-based prevention programs to reduce both prevalence and the need for treatment services over time, starting with the four most common preventable disorders (anxiety, substance use, conduct and depressive disorders).
  • Evaluate all treatment services and prevention programs to ensure they are effective.
  • Invest in new data collection to monitor the prevalence of child and youth mental disorders over time.

“Investments in the mental health of young people are among the most important investments that any of us can make,” she told the committee.

The Legislative Assembly of BC on the Select Standing Committee’s mandate is to foster greater awareness and understanding of the BC child and youth service system. They are currently undertaking a special project examining youth mental health in BC as of May 2014.

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