The rate of children and youth with mental health and substance abuse issues is on the rise in the Williams Lake area, said elementary school counsellor Rana Grace.
Grace, and Williams Lake physician Dr. Glen Fedor, are part of a team of local professionals hoping to improve mental health services in the community through a collaborative approach.
For almost a year, doctors, Ministry of Children and Family Development workers, RCMP members, school counsellors and other professionals have been developing a child and youth mental health and substance use collaborative.
“Statistics indicate 80 per cent of mental health issues can be managed by a family doctor in a community if there’s adequate support working with other agencies,” said Fedor.
And, he added, 70 per cent of all adult mental health problems start with youth as children so by missing it in youth, it is delayed into adulthood, which isn’t good.
“We don’t have to send everything to Vancouver,” Fedor continued. “That used to be the rule, but the problem is that a Vancouver plan won’t necessarily work in Williams Lake.”
While severe cases still go to Kelowna or Vancouver where patients work with a specialist out of town, there is presently a child psychiatrist who comes to Williams Lake from Vancouver about once every six weeks for appointments.
Grace said the aim of the team is to support youth as widely as possible.
“If a parent is dealing with crisis in the home, to go to all the places outlined in a treatment plan can be pretty overwhelming,” she said. “We all know pieces. If a patient comes in to see Glen he gets what they tell him, but if he goes a little bit further and we can give him what we see at the school, the friend network or a lack of friend network, he can build a bigger picture and then we can put into place how we are going to support this child.”
Or the emergency doctor might send Grace an e-mail alerting her of a patient who suffers from anxiety or depression who has disclosed that some difficult things are happening at school.
Maybe they feel they are being bullied or they have no friends.
“I will give that information to the school counsellor wherever that child is at so that we can work together to make sure that child feels they are being heard and supported,” Grace said.
The team wants to increase the number of children who receive triage within three days, to offer transition to the adult system for youth, and standardize protocol for treating youth with mental health issues in emergency ward, Fedor explained.
Team members are submitting data monthly to keep track of how many referrals are being made, how many times is there follow-up and how often are they communicating to see if there is a marked improvement.
Grace said it is exciting that family physicians are recognizing child mental health and substance abuse is a concern and are making it more of a priority, and are co-ordinating efforts with the schools and the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
“Those are three big ministries and you can gain momentum if everyone is on the same page,” Grace said. “In our own little realm we’re making progress.”
Williams Lake or the Cariboo Team is one of several divisions within Interior Health doing a child and youth mental health and substance use collaborative.
Funding for the collaborative is in place until October 2014, Fedor said.