Children and Youth

70% of adults suffering from mental health problems and illnesses say that they noticed their first symptoms before the age of 18.

Over the last year, the MHCC has taken two significant steps related to the mental health of children and youth:

  • adding a youth perspective to Changing Directions, Changing Lives: The Mental Health Strategy for Canada to make it more relevant to youth and,
  • leading the way in helping to ensure that young people making the transition to adulthood are not lost by mental health systems across Canada.

Working With Youth

It is shocking that an estimated 1.2 million children and youth in Canada are affected by a mental problem or illness.  Moreover, less than 20% will receive appropriate treatment.

The MHCC gives priority to increasing the capacity of families, schools, communities, and more to promote mental health and prevent mental health problems and illnesses among children and youth. The MHCC works with its Advisory and Youth Councils, Indigenous youth, youth with lived experience of mental health problems and illnesses and other experts to establish the foundation for healthy emotional and social development.

As well, prevention and early intervention, are vital to ensuring the mental wellbeing of every person in Canada as they progress from childhood to adulthood. Early intervention can improve quality of life and also provide significant cost savings. So, the empowerment of youth, educators, and health professionals with a better understanding of mental health can help relieve the social and economic impact of some mental health problems and illnesses.

It is clear that there is an urgent need for improved mental health promotion and illness prevention among Canada’s young people. By age 25, approximately 20% of people in Canada will have developed a mental problem or illness. Child and youth mental health is a collective responsibility requiring the engagement of parents, educators, health professionals, and community organizations.

Many youth depend on their families as their primary source of support, so incorporating the family perspective into the development of child and youth mental health services is a key to success.

The Mental Health Strategy for Canada: A Youth Perspective

The MHCC’s Youth Council has created a youth version of Changing Directions, Changing Lives: The Mental Health Strategy for Canada.

The Mental Health Strategy for Canada: A Youth Perspective is an adapted version of the original, released in May 2015, which includes examples of best practices that help bring to life many of the recommendations in the Strategy, making mental health policy more accessible to anyone advocating for improvements to the mental health system.

The Youth Strategy magnifies the conversation about mental health to show that all people in Canada need to equip themselves with the right knowledge to have an informed say in the issues that affect them now and in the future.

MHCC Youth Council

The MHCC regularly consults with its Youth Council to engage young people directly in fulfilling our mandate. Involving people aged 17–30 who have lived experience of a mental health problem or mental illness, this group provides valuable feedback on MHCC programs and strategies. The MHCC, with its Youth Council, completed work on a youth-friendly version of the Strategy, in which the principle of recovery is central, to best support the mental wellbeing of children and young people.

School Based Mental Health and Substance Abuse

The MHCC led The School-Based Mental Health Substance and Abuse Project in which 80% of respondents indicated that Canadian students have unmet mental health needs. As a result, this project recommended additional investment in mental health promotion and learning, greater coordination among all provinces and territories, and an increased number of mental health professionals in schools.

The MHCC supported the School-Based Mental Health and Substance Abuse Project to determine the need for a coordinated systems approach and more trained mental health professionals in Canadian schools. The Mental Health First Aid program also offers a course designed specifically for adults who interact with youth between the ages of 12 and 24.

Emerging Adults

Through the development of the Youth Strategy, the MHCC recognized that, due to current policies, programs and a lack of research, the challenges facing youth who are transitioning into adult mental health and addiction services is an area of significant concern in Canada. Youth who require continued services are often not well supported as they prepare to enter the adult mental health system. Transition-aged youth who disengage from mental health services are at a significantly higher risk of developing more enduring mental health problems and illnesses later in life.

In order to develop a better understanding of the service delivery gaps that exist in a young person’s transition to adult mental health and addiction services, the MHCC consulted with our former Services Systems and Child and Youth Advisory Committees, Youth Council, and researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) to create the Youth Transitioning into Adult Mental Health Services Uptake and Engagement Project. The project report, written by the research team from CHEO, proposes recommendations to enhance and improve current services and supports.

Following on this work, in November 2015 the MHCC brought together 200 delegates and special guests to participate in the Consensus Conference on the Mental Health of Emerging Adults: Making Transitions a Priority in Canada. This conference, which was opened by Her Excellency Sharon Johnston, fully explored many of the factors that affect the mental health of emerging adults and scrutinized how health and social systems can work together to better support their overall mental well-being.

The conference’s four main themes were:

  • Defining emerging adulthood as a stage of life;
  • Bridging the gap between child, youth and adult mental health and addiction services;
  • Transitions across service systems; and,
  • Mechanisms for improving mental health system responsiveness.

The Youth Panel, the delegates and the 16-person jury presented the following draft guiding principles and recommendations for improving mental health outcomes for emerging adults:

  • All emerging adults across Canada have equal access to high‐quality, publicly funded mental health care;
  • The culture of the system is one of hope, collaboration, and integration;
  • Emerging adults are engaged as experts;
  • Indigenous knowledge, systems, and practices are fully integrated where they are needed;
  • Services are client‐driven and cover the full range of needs;
  • The mental health care system is flexible;
  • Services are locally, culturally, and personally relevant;
  • Emerging adults with mental health needs have access to supportive peers and professionals to which they can relate;
  • Services respect the individual and create a sense of community and belonging; and,
  • Services are highly responsive to the needs of all vulnerable people.