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'Crisis': Ontario children wait up to 18 months for mental health services

The number of children waiting for psychotherapy in Ontario has nearly doubled over the past three years, according to Children's Mental Health of Ontario (CMHO), an advocacy group for publicly funded mental health services for children.

The organization estimates that 12,000 children are waiting for mental health services in the province, compared to 6,500 only three years ago. What's more, many of the mental health services for children in the province have up to an 18-month wait-list.

"It is a crisis," said CMHO chief executive officer Kimberly Moran. "We're actually past crisis – we've been sounding the alarm for three years ... I have no idea why the government isn't acting on this."

On Oct. 2, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins announced the province will provide an additional $72.6 million over the next three years for psychotherapy programs.

"Structured psychotherapy is an evidence-based, life saving treatment for illnesses such as anxiety and depression," Hoskins said in a release. Moran said that, while the funding is welcome news for adults with mental illness, it does little to address the needs for children in the province.

"I think that's going to help an awful lot of adults," she said. "However, those programs are geared toward adults; it is not going to help those kids that are waiting."

Health Ministry spokesperson David Jensen agreed the programs announced on Oct. 2 are targeted to those over 16, but noted the ministry is working on a provincial structured psychotherapy program, which will soon be in development, and will be accessible to everyone in Ontario, including families, children and youth.

"We want families to have confidence that there will be support available for their children and youth when they need it," he said in an email. "We need a system that recognizes current challenges and we know more must be done."

Jensen said Ontario provides more than $3.7 billion in ongoing funding for mental health and addiction services, including $455 million annually for child and youth mental health services. He adds that about 130,000 young people are accessing services in community-based child and youth mental health agencies.

By Jonathan Zettel

6 October 2017 

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