Parents anxiously await youth mental health services

The Foundry is expected to be fully operational by fall.

Meeting the needs of a child with drug and mental health issues is nearly impossible in the Okanagan, says a local mother.

“My son had a relapse this weekend after being clean from drugs for two-and-a-half months,” said Jamie Jones, a mother who first spoke to the Capital News last year about her struggles with her son’s addiction and mental health issues. She’s asked for anonymity to protect her 16-year-old son from being stigmatized as he grows older, so her name has been withheld for this story.

“He’s been wait-listed and wait-listed to get services and nothing is happening,” Jones said. “He has social anxiety so high that he can’t go to school, anymore. Now this. It’s crucial that he get assessed and put on something.”

When her son was in the emergency room after ingesting cocaine they learned was laced with fentanyl this weekend, she may have found some help.

“The doctor said, ‘you should have been seen by a psychiatric pediatrician a long time ago,” she said, adding that the doctor may have helped make that happen sooner than later by pushing for a referral.

She’s hopeful, but she’s heard a lot of empty promises as a parent trying to navigate the system.

As is, she’s sick of the continual stream of news that kids are overdosing and dying in this community.

“Christy Clark said ‘poor mental health is difficult and finding help shouldn’t be,’” said Jones. “I couldn’t agree more.”

She just doesn’t see what the government has done to improve conditions.

During a campaign stop in Kelowna Clark lauded the opening of the Foundry, a one stop shop for youth mental health and drug issues.

“We’re really proud to support it,” Clark said, adding it’s a model that needs to be implemented across the province.

She explained that when a young person has serious mental health issues, they usually find their way to a hospital and a hospital doesn’t have the resources to divert them to where they need to be.

The Foundry will stop that, she said.

Jones is dubious and said the situation should never have deteriorated to where it is today. From the school system to health care, she’s watched her child be bounced around without ever finding the help he needs and she’s been advocating for him at every stop.

If her son didn’t want that help, and wanted to hide his issues, she said, he would have fallen through the cracks long ago.

Mike Gawliuk, director of service delivery and program innovation at CMHA Kelowna, is the driving force behind the Foundry.

“We’re looking at doing a soft launch to the middle of June with a formal opening in the early in the fall,” he said.

With the opening of the Foundry yet to happen, Gawliuk has seen some change for the better.

“There’s been some profile around it,” he said, adding the recent fentanyl crisis, as well as a recent series of high profile youth deaths has shone a spotlight on the situation.

“I think within society now, and whether it’s because of crises taking place or other factors, mental health is something people are becoming more comfortable discussing,” he said.

“Compared to five or 10 years ago, people are discussing it and it’s not hidden in the shadows. It’s something we have to act on.”

Gawliuk said that his organization is looking forward to establishing Foundry, and they hope it will bridge the gaps that have arisen in dealing with youth.

“One of the things the Foundry is doing is bringing together all of the organizations and that’s one core aspect about what’s done,” he said. “Also there’s a stepped-care model of service.”

Gawliuk explained the stepped-care model by comparing it to his son’s recent gym injury.

“My son hurt his knee on the playground, so he’s going to be assessed,” said Gawliuk.

“If he doesn’t need surgery, he won’t get it. He might need rehabilitation, instead.”

It’s a simple enough thing to wrap your head around, but it’s not yet how mental health services work.

“What we want to do is start with the right service at the right time,” he said. “(Patients) will got to one service, and if that doesn’t resolve their issue, then they will go to the next level of care.”

For Jones it’s too late. At the request of her son, she’s leaving the life she built in the Okanagan, putting the house up for sale and moving east.

“What can I do? He said he needs this, and I have to do this,” she said.