Youth Mental Health Campaign Targets Provincial Government

By Robert Sibley

Yellow school buses are a common sight on city streets. The only time most people give then any mind is when they stop, lights flashing, to load or unload children.

Thursday evening, though, three such buses were deployed at St. Paul University to draw the attention of Ottawans to the reality of suicide among young
people -enough every year to fill three buses -and to launch a new movement, entitled Taking a Stand, to push the Ontario government to deliver better
mental health services to children and youth.

“So many young people are hurting inside,” said Joanne Curran, one of the organizers of the movement and the director of Children’s Mental Health Ontario.

“A lot of them don’t admit it, but even those who do don’t find the services they need. We’re trying to drive home the fact that there’s a lack of service
for these people and the result is often suicide.”

The numbers bear out that claim. According to Statistics Canada, 3,611 people killed themselves in Canada in 2007, the latest year for which figures are
available. Of that number, 508 involved people between ages 10 and 24. These are recorded suicides. The actual number may be higher.

The Canadian Mental Health Association, drawing on Statistics Canada figures, noted in a 2006 report that suicide was the second leading cause of death
for Canadians between 10 and 24. Suicide accounts for about 24 per cent of all deaths among 15-to 24-year-olds. Moreover, according to a 2004 bulletin
from Canadian Institute for Public Health Information, suicide attempts by youths make up about 25 per cent of hospital admissions.

In March, the provincial government committed itself to providing $257 million over three years for helping improve the situation for children with mental
health and addiction problems.

The Taking A Stand movement, sponsored by the Ottawa Action Network for Children & Youth Mental Health, is intended to make sure the politicians honour that commitment and to campaign for sustained funding that would improve the overall system of mental health supports and services for children and youth, Curran said as 70 youngsters clad in purple T-shirts posed for the media in front of the school buses.

“We want this (issue) politicized,” she said, adding that organization intended to canvas all Ottawa-area candidates running for office. “The current system is a patchwork service and people aren’t getting the services they need.”

Following the yellow-bus display, the campaign headed to the St. Paul University auditorium, where a few young people and a parent who had a child in need to mental health care offered their stories of years of depression and suicide attempts.

One 16-year-old girl, Rachel, recounted nine years of depression, self-harm, repeated suicide attempts and a merry-go-round of doctors, hospitals, school officials and psychiatrists before she finally received treatment. “I felt depressed and worthless all the time. I finally got the help I needed, but it
shouldn’t have taken so long.”

Eighteen-year-old Lucas described how he had suddenly gone from being a happy child to a constantly depressed, angry and quick-tempered 15-year-old. He credited a friend who also suffered from depression for saving him from suicide.

“There is no shame to mental illness,” said Phyllis Grant-Parker, representing Parents Lifeline East Ontario. “The only shame is to allow the lack of services to continue.”

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