Mental Health Forum Says Big Challenges Have Local Solutions

Challenges with mental health and addictions is so prevalent most people can rattle off some statistic whether they, or someone they know, is affected or not. Under the idea of “it takes a village”, a bunch of community leaders were brought together on Tuesday morning at the Frank Hasenfratz Centre for Excellence in Manufacturing for a Youth Mental Health Forum in the hopes of generating some “outside the box” thinking.

“There’s definitely no debating anymore that mental health is health, and that there is definitely no debating that we are in a mental health crisis, specifically with children and youth,” said Emma Rogers, the CEO of the Children’s Foundation of Guelph and Wellington. “The way that things were working for us pre-COVID, don’t work for us anymore. Children and youth are in a different state now and therefore, as a community, what is required for us to help and support them is different.”

The Children’s Foundation co-hosted the forum with The Grove Wellington-Guelph and the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington (CMHAWW) in order to invite youth, parents, caregivers, and service providers to engage, discuss, and then generate creative solutions. The goal was to find new ways to support the wellness of youth in our community.

“This is an opportunity for us to share with our local leadership how we feel about the mental health crisis that’s going on right now and potentially share some ideas that we have to be a part of the solution,” Rogers explained. “Please be brave this morning. Please engage in conversation and please put forward your ideas.”

One of the main speakers was the Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Michael Tibollo. Before running for office in 2018, Tibollo was a lawyer, but he also worked with the board of the Caritas School of Life, a therapeutic centre that offers wrap around services for people with mental health and addiction issues in the form of day programs and residential facilities.

“I want to make very clear to all of you that our government thinks mental health is a priority issue, and that’s why we’ve committed to making sure that all Ontarians have access to high quality mental health and addiction supports where and when they need them,” Tibollo said.

“And I go one step step further and say that those services have to be client-centred, a one-size fits approach all does not work, and you all know that. I get it and that’s something that we have to ensure is put in place when we’re providing the supports and looking at treatment modalities,” he added.

The minister pointed out some examples of his own support for outside the box thinking on mental health, including a pilot project in two locations to support mothers who have substance addiction issues. “Many of them refuse to get help because they have children, and they run the risk of losing them, or they don’t want to be separated from them,” he said. “These are programs specifically for moms so that the children are getting support while the moms are getting treatment.”

Tibollo said that he thinks the rise in homelessness in some Ontario cities has to do with people moving to urban centres so that they might have an easier time finding access to the services they need, which is why he wants to spread out the assistance so that people can get help closer to home.

“What I’d like to see is that each of the different agencies have support and services locally, and that will also result in the lowest recidivism rates because we know that people receiving services closer to home are more likely to be successful in whatever treatment they’re getting,” Tibollo explained.

Along with the need for individual care, Tibollo said that there has to be the same level of service offered at locations across Ontario, and that’s where facilities like youth wellness hubs come in. He also told a room full of municipal leaders and politicians, including current and potential city councillors, that the Province needs to pick up the slack.

“We can’t rely on our municipalities to do all the heavy lifting and turn a blind eye to the issues around mental health and addictions,” Tibollo said.

“After many conversations I’ve had with mayors, not only here in Guelph but around the province, it seems like we’ve loaded this burden on municipalities and the Province has to take responsibility in many ways because we have to standardize services. We have to ensure that regardless of where the individual is in the province, they’re getting a level of care that’s commensurate with the need.”

You can see Tibollo’s entire presentation here:

Dr. Jo Henderson, Executive Director of Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario, followed Tibollo. Henderson helped pioneer the youth wellness hub model in Ontario, and has been enlisted by many groups and communities, including here in Guelph-Wellington, to help establish local hubs with direction to meet community needs.

“Through The Grove, we are learning about really specific pieces that are informing not just your local work, but our provincial work and, in fact, our national work. Things like how do we do a place-based initiative in a big geographic area? How do we partner with post-secondary institutions to build better relationships among community and university?” Henderson explained. “So that’s what we’re doing here and in each community, we’re learning something different. We’re really seeing it as an opportunity to build out a system more generally.”

Henderson noted that issues around youth mental health are a state of constant learning. Yes, young people, especially school-aged youth, have experienced a lot of disruption, especially with normal rights of passage into adulthood like going away to university, playing organized sports, or getting a part-time job.

And yes, some young people saw decrease in their anxiety because they didn’t have to sweat about public speaking or seeing the school bully on a daily business. Not dealing with those stressors were a relief for some, but overall, pandemic disruptions compounded pre-existing mental heath issues in young people, and created some whole new ones.

“A lot of resilience has been demonstrated over the course of a pandemic among young people, but as we’ve moved, and continued to move through the pandemic, we’ve seen a little bit of a settling among young people into a lonelier state, a state of feeling more isolated, bored and disconnected,” Henderson explained.

“This makes sense because, in fact, our youth have had this big disruption to more aspects of their regular developmental course than any other age group,” they added. “All of these things were disrupted in the context of the pandemic, so while their time was ticking, their developmental path became quite complicated and compromised.”

On the bright side, this has fostered more awareness in young people about mental health issues, and recognizing the need to make it a priority. It also made them think more about their own lives, relationships, and goals. It allowed them to embrace new hobbies, connect with old ones, or reconnect with close family and friends. Incidents of FOMO (fear of missing out) went down, and young people literally stopped to smell the roses. They also learned that they’re stronger than they otherwise might have thought.

“In our last round of data collection, we told the young people we’ve been engaging with this entire time to write whatever they want on the survey,” Henderson explained. “So this what one young person wrote, ‘This survey has provided me with a space to reflect on my own experiences and has been somewhat therapeutic in a sense. I remember back at the peak of COVID, I filled out one of these surveys and it made me cry to think about how awful things had become. But now, I’m much happier and it makes me feel grateful to be able to reflect on how far things have come.'”

You can watch Dr. Henderson’s entire presentation below:

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