New mental health program for youth aims to close gaps in care

·3 min read
Half of the children arriving at CHEO's emergency department during the pandemic are experiencing a mental health crisis, the hospital said. (ESB Professional/Shutterstock - image credit)
Half of the children arriving at CHEO's emergency department during the pandemic are experiencing a mental health crisis, the hospital said. (ESB Professional/Shutterstock - image credit)

A new program for youth dealing with mental health issues in Ottawa aims to bridge the gaps between levels of care, something experts say has been needed for years.

Step Up Step Down is a bilingual live-in treatment program for young people ages 12 to 17 who have complex mental health needs. The program, which has six beds, will serve both male and female participants for up to 30 days.

It is a joint initiative between the Youth Services Bureau (YSB) and CHEO, eastern Ontario's children's hospital in Ottawa, and Le CAP, a French-language mental health service.

The idea is to provide a place for youth who have been receiving treatment in hospital but aren't ready to go home, or who have been in a community care setting and have seen a deterioration in their health, but aren't at the point of hospitalization.

"We needed to really try and address the circumstances for these kids who literally were coming out of the hospital with no other options other than to return home, which then of course typically precipitated yet another visit to the emergency department," said Joanne Lowe, executive director of YSB and vice-persident of mental health and addictions at CHEO.

Lowe said this is the first program of its kind in eastern Ontario.

Strain on the system

Lowe said the number of patients coming to CHEO's emergency department generally decreased during the pandemic, but of those who did visit, 50 per cent were dealing with some kind of mental health crisis.

Participants will live in a converted building on Carling Avenue that's owned by YSB. They will have access to a team of experts from many fields including psychologists, teachers, social workers and occupational therapists.

"We know that for these youth, access to multidisciplinary teams is critical in order to quickly and effectively respond to their unique treatment needs," said Monica Armstrong, director of mental health services for YSB.

"It is also crucial that these supports are immediately available after discharge so that the clinical recommendations and gains made during live-in treatment services are maintained, and to decrease the chances of readmission to live-in or inpatient programmes."

Joannne Lowe, executive director of the Youth Services Bureau and vice-president of mental health and addictions at CHEO, says this is the first program of its kind in eastern Ontario.
Joannne Lowe, executive director of the Youth Services Bureau and vice-president of mental health and addictions at CHEO, says this is the first program of its kind in eastern Ontario.(Anne Girard)

Armstrong said in the past the correct supports have not been in place after discharge, resulting in stress on families.

She said accessing mental health services has been harder for francophones, which is why it was important to make the program bilingual.

"Access to live in treatment services in general for francophones is not currently available in our region, other than through other services that Le CAP provides, but they're mainly targeted on addiction services," Armstrong said.

The program opened its doors the first week of May and currently has three participants, with two more referrals nearing the intake stage.

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