Latimer: Parents of mentally ill children find system frustrating

I have written before about the sometimes daunting experience people can have when navigating our mental health care system.

I have written before about the sometimes daunting experience people can have when navigating our mental health care system.

For many people, it is difficult to determine which services are available and appropriate and how to access them in order to receive the best care possible during a difficult period.

Parents with young children experiencing a mental illness are no exception. As if it weren’t stressful enough to realize a child is suffering with a mental health issue, parents must often seek help in many places before they are successful in accessing it.

According to an IPSOS Reid survey sponsored by the RBC Children’s Mental Health Project late last year, Canadian parents of children with mental illness are frustrated in their efforts to find mental health resources.

In their survey of more than 2,000 parents with children aged 18 or younger, 22 per cent had concerns about the mental health of at least one child. Of those, 54 per cent felt it was terrible to sort through agencies and resources to get help.

Many lamented the lack of a one-stop shop where they could turn for help and information.

A vast majority (82 per cent) said they sought information from doctors with almost an equal number citing the Internet as another source of information on children’s mental health; however only 19 per cent claimed to trust information found on the web.

ADHD was the top mental health concern listed by parents with behaviour disorders and depression next in line.

Unfortunately, the way mental health care is set up in Canada, each province has its own system of delivery and within each province there is often a lack of coordination between services and agencies.

In B.C., children’s mental health falls under the umbrella of the individual local health authorities.

Family doctors and pediatricians are the primary contact for most families.

Children can then be treated or referred on to further specialists, counseling or other programs.

Unfortunately, it is difficult for many physicians to be aware of all available services in a community and many also lack sufficient training to properly diagnose mental illness in children.

If you suspect your child has a mental health problem and you aren’t sure it has been sufficiently identified and dealt with, don’t be afraid to seek referral to a specialist such as a child psychiatrist.

Specialists have received specific training and education in dealing with the subtle and often tricky diagnostic differences in mental health issues among children.

In most mental disorders, it is important to get appropriate help as quickly as possible to avoid prolonged difficulty at school and in social settings, as well as to limit the amount of damage done within the brain.

Currently, only one in five children who need mental health services get them.

Another great local resource is the Kelowna chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association. Visit their website at for information on available services in the area.

Paul Latimer is a psychiatrist and president of Okanagan Clinical Trials.



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