Children facing a mental health crisis are arriving in the emergency room at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario twice as often today as they were two years ago, leading the hospital to look for more creative ways to offer help.
“We’ve seen some staggering increases over the last two years,” said Karen Tataryn, CHEO’s regional director of children and youth mental health services. “Not only are we having more children and youth coming to emerge, but the severity of their symptoms is causing them to be admitted too.”
Of the 2,637 youth and children seen at the hospital in 2011, staff are recording high levels of depression, anxiety and suicidal behaviour, Tataryn said.
“Each year has been an increase over the previous year. So we’re not too sure what to expect now. It’s not easing up.”
To deal with the influx, the hospital’s mental health staff have extended their ER hours with staggered shifts. In the fall, the service will be available on weekends and is also looking to hire on two new child psychologists, Tataryn said.
In the meantime, the hospital is reaching out to mental health organizations throughout the city, such as Youth Services Bureau, to help ease the pressure.
“We may be able to discharge youth sooner if YSB’s mobile crisis unit can follow up with them the next day,” she said. “We’re pulling these organizations closer to us and trying to see if there’s something more we could do to address these issues.”
Monday also saw the launch CHEO’s new mental health website, which Tataryn hopes will offer a way point to youth looking for reliable information. “We’re helping them weed through thousands of pages of mental health information that you can find online,” she said. “It’s in-depth information from a source they know they can trust.”
Still, some youth who have been discharged from ER are returning.
“They come back and their situation has become worse,” she said. “The earlier you intervene, the better. So we’re trying very hard to connect them with resources in the community.”