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Jose antonio Sanchez reyes

Youth with mental illnesses are slipping through the cracks of B.C.'s fragmented mental-health system – a "ragged jumble of services" that is difficult to access and lacks accountability.

Such were the findings of B.C.'s representative for children and youth, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who on Tuesday released a scathing report on the matter titled Still Waiting: First Hand Experiences with Youth Mental Health Services in B.C. The report focused on those between the ages of 16 and 19, a critical age group "characterized by a complex interplay of biological, cognitive and psychosocial issues," as well as new social roles related to housing and employment.

"We have in B.C. a piecemeal mental-health system that is confusing, frustrating and often traumatic for the youth and families attempting to navigate it," Ms. Turpel-Lafond said. "It is a system punctuated by long wait times – sometimes up to a year for a young person to see a mental-health professional – a lack of acute care, specialized emergency care and community-based, intensive intermediate care; poor transitioning from youth mental-health services to adult mental-health services; and a lack of communication, co-ordinating and planning between and among service providers.

"To be honest, there is not a mental-health system for young people in B.C. in the true sense of the word 'system.'"

The report is the result of feedback gathered from hundreds of mental-health practitioners and physicians, parents and caregivers and youth with mental illnesses via surveys, focus groups and interviews. It builds on three recent reports by Ms. Turpel-Lafond that also identified shortcomings on the part of the province to address the mental-health needs of young people and their families.

In this newest report, participants consistently identified long waiting lists as barriers to service, while 40 per cent of physicians said a waiting time of six months or more was typical just for initial psychiatric assessments. These waiting times, along with gaps in care, result in youths frequenting emergency rooms most often to address their mental-health needs.

Further, the report estimated that B.C. has only 67 emergency, acute and treatment beds available to young people with mental-health issues – a figure Ms. Turpel-Lafond said may be "overly generous."

She said only 6 per cent of the Ministry of Children and Family Development's (MCFD) budget goes to mental health.

The report's sole recommendation is the creation of a Minister of State for Youth Mental Health, a figure to provide leadership and accountability across ministries and health authorities.

Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said she was "appreciative" of the report and acknowledged the two key problematic transitional points in B.C.'s mental-health system: from youth to adult services and from the MCFD to the Ministry of Health.

"Those transitions should be essentially invisible for families and we know they aren't today," she said, adding there is already work under way to address them.

Ms. MacDiarmid dismissed a query about a Minister of State for Youth Mental Health, saying a decision on such structuring "would be for a future government, a future premier to make. I'm not sure that the structure is so important as that we address the needs that are reflected in this report."