The Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI) released a study in July that showed a concerning spike in Canadians aged 5-24 seeking the ER because of reasons regarding their mental well-being. The study compares rates from 2006 to 2014, showing the highest increase in those aged 15 to 17.
The stats raise a concern that appears to be going under the radar. Why are so many of Canada’s youth ending up in the ER due to a mental breakdown? According to Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO), there are currently 6000 youth waiting for community-based mental health services, with an average wait time of one year. This number is expected to double by 2016, meaning youth would then be waiting two years for community-based assistance such as access to various therapies, psychiatric assessments, diagnosis, treatment, housing, case management and so forth.
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) states that only one in five children and youth living with a mental health problem are receiving professional help for it. Having to wait for mental health services is not only frustrating; it can also have devastating effects. In 2009, StatsCan reported 202 suicides in Canadians aged 15 to 19, this accounts for 24 per cent of deaths in that age group, making it the second leading cause of fatalities next to accidental injuries.
Marissa Arlington, 21, feels as though these statistics hit home as she reflects on being in an out of the hospital throughout grades seven and eight, “At that point in time I think it was a combination of mixed emotions, body image, my social life and I guess you could say severe sadness.”
Hitting puberty is a challenging phase for any preteen, however in Arlington’s case it caused her to feel badly about herself, she had troubles with her self-esteem and it eventually placed her into a depression she could not escape. For months, Arlington struggled to move forward with the underlying feelings of sadness.
“The emotion I felt internally obviously turned into an outburst, eventually that outburst started to show up on my skin”, states Arlington.
It was not until she had reached the point of self-harming that she decided to confront her parents, who did not take the news well considering mental health was not a dinner table discussion in her family. Arlington states, “They talked to me, but they didn’t necessarily take action because they were unaware of what to do. Any parent would react that way unless they’ve experienced it themselves.”
A lack of understanding and education is what continues to contribute to the stigmas surrounding mental health. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), one in five Canadians will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime. However, Public Health of Canada (PHAC) states only 67% of Canadians consider depression to be an illness.
After speaking with her parents, Arlington was admitted to the hospital for treatment. “A few months into being hospitalized I really figured, ‘screw this it isn’t doing anything for me’. Being in the hospital didn’t help either because you wanted to go completely mental just from being medicated every single day.”
Feeling hopeless, Arlington attempted to end it for good during a weekend outing from the hospital. She was allowed to visit her home for 48 hours and that was all the time she needed to overdose on her medications.
“That’s when the cycle began all over again.”
Her overdose led to another ER visit, prolonging the amount of time she would be spending in the hospital, this time including regular visits to the psychologist and a psychiatrist. Arlington was looking for answers, instead she was given more pills, “When I spoke to the psychologist they said there’s nothing wrong with me, that I’m just going through a typical teenage phase, the psychiatrist didn’t help because all he did was up my dosage on whatever medications I was taking.”
Moving forward from her traumatic experience, Arlington has a better understanding of her own mental health. However, she wishes no person would have to endure the same pain she has. “It’s important for people to know that it doesn’t matter what age you are, sex, culture, religion, race, anyone can experience this and it can haunt you for the rest of you life.”
Currently a third year journalism student at Humber College, aiming to work within the music scene and radio.