New Brunswick's child and youth advocate says he's cautiously optimistic after the province announced it's five-year plan to tackle mental health and addictions in the province.
Earlier this week, the province announced a provincial treatment centre for youth would be open by 2024.
Such a centre has been a priority for successive governments, both Liberal and Progressive Conservative, and a centre was planned for Campbellton.
Concerns about the location and staffing led the Blaine Higgs government to move the centre to Moncton.
Child and youth advocate Norm Bosse said he was happy to see the plan released but hopes the treatment centre can open sooner.
"The Addiction and Mental Health Action Plan released by Minister Shepherd this week is a welcome sight, that's for sure," said Bosse.
"I know she said 2024, but let's hope that it's built before then."
Going beyond centre of excellence
The new centre in Moncton has been trumpeted as a centre of excellence for youth mental health and addictions services.
But Bosse said treating youth mental health and addiction issues can't stop at the centre of excellence. A network of excellence is needed, he said
This would allow young people to be treated for more moderate issues in their communities, with more serious cases being reserved for the Moncton centre.
He cited Saint John's Access Open Minds as an example and said treating youth in their own communities is key to getting them better, faster.
"Youth can go there, they can talk to a counsellor, if they need assistance, they can certainly get it," said Bosse.
"It's what we call treating the situation at the right place at the right time and not waiting for months and months to get in to see either psychologists or psychiatrists. Those are what make a difference sometimes so that the situations of mental health don't escalate to the point where they need tertiary care"
Bosse said the data is too fresh to draw any permanent conclusions, but anecdotally, he said, youth have had a hard time during the pandemic.
"What we're hearing and receiving from calls for assistance in our office is that children are suffering, there's depression and there's also risk of suicide," said Bosse.
"I've not heard of one case of youth dying by suicide during this pandemic, but the the elements are all there to create those situations."