Niagara’s children’s Mental Health agency sees 35 percent increase in cases.
St. Catharines, ON (June 1, 2021) – Long after the population is vaccinated, the mental health effects of the pandemic will still be felt. Evidence is presented in the growing number of clients Pathstone Mental Health has seen and continues to see.
Over the past 12 months (April 1st 2020-March 31st 2021), 9,449 children and youth received early intervention, prevention, and acute mental health support at Pathstone, which is a 35% increase last years number of 7,012.
Director of Strategic Initiatives, Standards, and Practises, Bill Helmeczi took a more in depth look at the numbers, and identified programs that experienced substantial pressure. Some of our therapy programs for individuals as well as families saw increases of over 200 per cent, which is 250 times more clients than we are funded to serve.
The lockdowns created challenges for individuals to receive support from both social and health agencies. Although Pathstone returned to in-person services in April 2020, the limits to in-person service created an overwhelming demand for our crisis and support department. That program supported over 1200 clients, which was nearly 65% more than the year prior.
We recognize that mental health support is essential and proves to be the case even more so in a pandemic; waiting for service becomes far more challenging. Nearly a quarter of the clients we helped over the past 12 months came to us through our Immediate Services Program. Under this umbrella is our in-person or video walk-in clinic program, and the 24/7, Crisis & Support line. This team worked with over 2,000 children and youth who were in need of immediate mental health care and support.
We know from numerous studies, during the pandemic, that people have reported, feeling alone or always lonely, feeling depressed or anxious, needing supports to manage their children, while alcoholism and depression were compounded and created mental health challenges for children and families. Any of these conditions do not support the optimal development of children’s cognitive, social, emotional or physical health. More specifically, we know from recent studies that 62 per cent of youth in Ontario report concerns with anxiety and only 32 per cent have spoken to a mental health professional about it. In Ontario, one-third of children have missed school due to their anxiety. In Niagara, that would be approximately 28,000 children. Further, 17 per cent of children under the age of five have met the criteria for mental health issues. It is important to note that 70 per cent of individuals have identified adolescence as the time when their mental health issues were first realized. All of this can affect the developing brain causing both immediate and potentially long term health consequences if not treated and supported properly.
To that end, one of the largest segments of growth Pathstone experienced were of kids aged 6-10. They accounted for 43 per cent of our clients compared to the year previous (pre-pandemic) which was slightly less than 25 per cent. Such an increase is likely due to the significant impact felt from leaving a structured school environment to a more relaxed home learning environment. This group is not typically able to use social media to the extent of older children, which further separated them from their peers. Social interaction for all children is critical. In this age group, children are transitioning from having only parents or siblings as their social group to now meeting other children of each sex, working in groups, partnering on homework projects and experiencing sleepovers. A big challenge for young people through the pandemic has been a result of changes to their school structure, the addition of online learning, and lack or elimination of social connection. This has caused an increase in cases of anxiety, particularly those in the primary grades. Experts suggest that it may take many years to crush the mental health curve.
Over the past few months, Pathstone Foundation addressed the need to support young children with Anxiety through the Worry Monster Campaign. The plush toys, that “eat worries” is a support tool kids are now using to better communicate their concerns to their Pathstone counsellors.
My young clients and their caring adults have been very appreciative of the worry monsters. It has been a great tool for helping children to contain big worries so that they can let them go and get back to the important work of being kids.
Sheri Eggleton, Pathstone Mental Health Therapist.
With a 35 per cent increase in overall cases over the past year, the effects have been particularly felt on our Brief Services program, which is now sitting with a wait list. Defined as six sessions or less of mental health support, this program did not have a wait pre-pandemic. As the primary care provider of children’s mental health care in the region, it is our responsibility to ensure families continue to get the service and support they need now, and in the future. With the increase in demand, we have long exhausted Ministry of Health funding, as such, we are now turning to the community to help us remedy the wait list issue. Support is needed to bulk up the Brief Services team and eat away at the wait list. In our estimation, it will take upwards of 18 months to solve.
Shaun Baylis, CEO, Pathstone Mental Health.
About Pathstone Mental Health
Pathstone Mental Health is a lead agency and community-based organization whose mission it is to provide innovative and effective treatment for all children in Niagara diagnosed with mental health issues. Thanks to support from our donors and volunteers, we are able to address and meet the needs of children and their families as the primary accredited provider of mental health services for children in Niagara.
Our Crisis and Support Line operates 24/7 by calling 1-800-263-4944.