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This is the fourth in a seven week series examining the topic of child and youth mental health in B.C. As this is a complex and multifaceted topic, I will be narrowing my focus to a few popular beliefs and areas of concern that I have witnessed in my role as MLA. The purpose of this series is to debunk these beliefs, increase awareness of these concerns, end the stigma of mental health in our society and provide opportunities for you to impact what is happening in your community.

“There is not only a clash of history and culture, but practically speaking a yawning gap into which many young people and their families are falling every day around the world. The current system is weakest where it needs to be strongest.” –McGorry et. al.

Popular Belief Five: The health care system is structured to provide necessary services

Reality: One of the most common concerns I have heard from constituents and their families trying to navigate through mental health services, is the difficulty and confusion they have faced in the transition from the youth to adult systems.

Transition-age youth are young people ages 16 to 24 who are moving from the child and youth to adult mental health system”. When young people reach the age of 19, they ‘age out’ of services provided by Child and Youth Mental Health and the Ministry of Child and Family Development and must move to adult mental health services, which are provided by the Ministry of Health in conjunction with other allied ministries and organizations. However, this transition can often prove confusing and fraught with gaps.

Issues Facing Transitioning Youth

“Once you get to my age [23] there’s nothing” – McCreary Centre Study Youth Participant on the transition from youth to adult services.

Last June, the Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth heard first-hand experiences from experts and youth alike about the many barriers that exist for transition-age youth in our mental health system today. From difficulty navigating services to inconsistencies between service systems to a lack of age-appropriate services and a need for additional supports, each of these things can work alone or in conjunction to further derail a young person transitioning from youth to adult services.

When a young person with mental health problems turns 19, the supports and services that they have been receiving throughout their youth are no longer available to them. When this happens, they must adjust to the abrupt loss of their past relationships with youth service providers and support systems and learn to navigate a new system with new people and new procedures. All this while trying to cope with both the challenges of living with a mental illness as well as the challenges that accompany any youth entering into adulthood. These realities can make it extremely arduous and frightening for a transitioning young person.

To further exacerbate this transition, the youth and adult mental health systems can prove exceedingly disjointed. Young people can find that services and supports that were available to them under the youth system may not have an equivalent under the adult system. When a comparable support does exist, the individual may not qualify for similar services as an adult due to differences in eligibility criteria. In fact, almost 50% of child and youth mental health practitioners have indicated that ineligibility was the greatest barrier for young people moving into the adult system, and 64% agreed that eligibility requirements hindered transition planning.

Furthermore, the lack of appropriate services to support this age group can leave many transition-aged youth feeling out of place and may even prevent them from accessing supports and services in the future. With pediatric services often aimed at a younger age group and adult services often aimed at an older-adult age group, it can be hard for these young people to find age-appropriate services that meet their needs.

Closing the Gaps

“It felt like I was asked to build the wall of China, without giving me the tools, without telling me the specific steps to take.” – McCreary Centre Study Youth Participant on the transition from youth to adult services.

With statistics showing that transition-aged youth are one of the largest demographics faced with mental health challenges, it is disheartening to know that our young people continue to be faced with these barriers day-in and day-out. Advocacy groups, mental health professionals and those living with mental health challenges work tirelessly to break down these barriers and have provided a number of first-hand and evidence-based ideas for improving the transition from youth to adult services.

These ideas include steps such as: extending youth services beyond 19 years of age and implementing a more gradual transition process; providing individual support workers to help youth develop a transition plan and navigate the system; improving information sharing and communication between service providers; and providing youth with the skills and techniques needed to reduce, and hopefully prevent, the need to transition into adult services all together.

It is time for government to take genuine steps towards mending these gaps and ensuring that no more youth fall through the cracks of a system that has been put in place to support them.

Weekly Action item

This week’s action item encourages you to get involved in child and youth mental health supports and services in your own community – Volunteer.

There are a number of local organizations throughout B.C. that work hard to provide youth in their community with the supports they need to achieve and maintain a positive mental well-being. The scope and variety of organizations and volunteer opportunities will vary greatly from region to region. Some options include your local Canadian Mental Health Association branch, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Club, or even online resources such as Kids Help PhoneYouth Space, and Youth in BC.

It is also important to remember that promoting and supporting the mental well-being of youth can be done in a variety of settings through out our communities and is not limited to organizations that deal directly with mental health. For example, you could volunteer at a local youth drop-in centre, your local community association or community centre, at a school, with a youth sports group or any other youth-involved organization or group.

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