New Program for Mentally Ill Teens Will Help Them With Transition to Adulthood

By pauline Tam, The Ottawa Citizen May 25, 2011   

A new test program is being launched to better connect mentally ill young people, who are woefully underserved, with the right health and social services
as they enter adulthood.

The program targets young people between the ages of 16 to 24, who are at high risk of abandoning psychiatric care because mental-health services are so poorly connected that many simply fall through the cracks as they make the transition to adulthood.

A Yale University study has estimated that more than half of all teens and young adults with mental-health problems abandon treatment as they come of age, even though they may still need it.

The transition from adolescence to adulthood, or high school to university, can be tricky for any teenager, but for the one in five young people with diagnoses of mental disorders the passage can be particularly fraught. Keeping a psychiatric disorder under control at a time when young adults are exploring their sexuality, learning to handle drugs and alcohol, and negotiating their new-found independence can be distressing.

In focus groups, teens have told eastern Ontario’s providers of mental-health services there appeared to be no place for them in the health system once
they turned 16.

“They talked about an apparent absence of any plan for them on their 16th birthday. They felt like when they turned 16, they were put in a wheelchair and
brought to The Ottawa Hospital,” said Karen Tataryn, regional director of children and youth mental health services. “Without doubt, the youth felt very
clearly that accessing adult services was a significant challenge for them.”

Likewise, the parents of these young people complained about being left on their own to sort through complicated bureaucracies, multiple waiting lists and conflicting advice.

Meanwhile, the providers of mental-health services, overwhelmed by chronic underfunding and soaring demand, often resorted to calling in favours from their colleagues to place patients in the right treatment programs because of the haphazard way services were organized.

“I think we had a sense that it really wasn’t good, but I don’t think we had a sense of how bad it was,” Tataryn told a meeting Wednesday of the Champlain Local Health Integration Network, eastern Ontario’s health authority.

The new program is meant to be a first step toward correcting these flaws. Under it, up to 115 young people would be referred over the next 18 months to
a “transition coordinator,” who would work one-on-one with each patient to design a treatment plan that would cater to their needs as they moved through
the crucial youth-to-adult phase. Since it began two months ago, 32 patients have already been enrolled.

“What we really need to be thinking about is how can successful transitions augment the lives of youth so that they can contribute meaningfully to society and manage the burden of their illness,” said Dr. Simon Davidson, chief psychiatrist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

The young people would be referred to the program by officials at the region’s major mental-health service providers. They include CHEO, the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group, The Ottawa Hospital, Queensway Carleton Hospital, Montfort Hospital, Youth Services Bureau, the Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centre and the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Health officials are also working to involve schools, universities and colleges in the program, recognizing that the education system plays a key role in
supporting young people with mental illness.

The $145,000 project, funded by the Champlain LHIN, is expected to include follow-up evaluations of participants to measure the program’s effectiveness.

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