New mental health website to help address increased demand for services

The past year has been the busiest year in The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario’s (CHEO) almost 40 year history; especially in terms of mental health.  CHEO has seen an almost 50 per cent increase in the number of visits to the emergency department for mental health related crises in the last two years, and an 86 per cent increase in out-patient referrals.   As a result, more than 760 children and youth are on the waiting list to see a CHEO clinician, and wait times have increased from an approximate 2 – 3 months, to a 6 – 12 months wait.

It is not only the volume that has increased, but the severity of cases as well.  CHEO has seen a more dramatic increase in kids exhibiting high risk behaviours.  For instance, the percentage of patients admitted for imminent suicide risk and needing immediate and intensive treatment has increased by 22 per cent in the last three years, and the percentage of admissions for serious self-injury went up 67 per cent.

Mood disorders, including depression, represent 54 per cent of admissions.  This has grown by more than 80 per cent in the last two years.  The other significant change is in admissions for psychotic disorders, up 67 per cent in the last two years, although this still represents only a small percentage of admissions (seven per cent).
The table below outlines the rise in mental health crises experienced in three different departments at CHEO:

The increased demand for CHEO’s mental health services may be due, in part, to the fact that there is less stigma surrounding mental illness. “Although we still have a ways to go before talking about your mental illness is like talking about your cancer or your asthma, one thing is clear. The world is changing.  And this is a good thing” said Alex Munter, president and chief executive officer, CHEO. “With early intervention and treatment we can change the entire trajectory of young people’s lives, forever altering both their physical and mental health and their life expectations.”
CHEO, The Royal and the Youth Services Bureau are working together with other community organizations to see how to expand the reach of mental health services, reduce wait lists, identify critical gaps and help more families in the community.

But to try and help families as they wait for services and to encourage a continued dialogue on mental health, CHEO decided to launch a new website on mental health two months ago. The site offers a variety of helpful tools for parents and teens, including:

•    Nearly 30 videos featuring questions from parents within the community and answers from mental health experts.
•    Information for parents and youth on a variety of mental health topics such as explaining what is depression, anxiety, bullying, self-harm, eating disorders, suicide, psychosis, ADHD, and more.
•    A list of suggested resources for more information.

I’m glad you asked!
One of the most popular sections of the new site has been ‘I’m glad you asked!’, a question and answer column that provides an interactive forum for parents to submit  questions and seek information on the topic of mental health that affects their family. This educational environment promotes discussion around general mental health questions and offers an anonymous venue to seek answers that parents may have.

On hand to offer their expert advice are Dr. Hazen Gandy, a psychiatrist at CHEO who is the Chair of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Ottawa, and Dr. Phil Ritchie, a psychologist at CHEO who specializes in mood and anxiety disorders, urgent care, disaster response and helping parents build resilient teens.

One parent recently turned to ‘I’m glad you asked!’ to get information on differentiating between her teenager’s moodiness and depression. Another had a question about her seven year old child’s anxiety issues, while yet another enquired about how to help a child who is the victim of a bully at school – topics that are on many other parents’ minds. The advice provided is helpful, informative and proffered in a respectful manner.

The site is growing both in size and popularity. And the hope is that it becomes a go-to tool for families to learn more about mental health and how to help their child.

CHEO is one of the largest providers of child and youth mental health services in Ontario.  It offers a broad range of both hospital and community-based services for children and youth (aged 0 – 18) and their families — spanning prevention and early intervention to more intensive diagnostic and treatment services. CHEO and The Royal partner to provide an integrated system of specialized psychiatric services.

CHEO is also home to internationally-recognized researchers in the field of mental health, eating disorders and outcomes management. Their research has helped shape clinical programs at CHEO and beyond.

The only way to help eliminate the stigma associated with mental health is by actively engaging in the discussion and informing ourselves! Mental health affects all of us, whether directly or indirectly. Join the conversation today, get informed, and help provide a healthier tomorrow for the children and youth in your community! It’s just one click away