Brenda Shewchenko and Janelle Keropatwa review a patient chart together at Interior Health's Adolescent Psychiatric Unit.

Specialized care for youth with mental health problems

Interior Health's Adolescent Psychiatric Unit helps young people dealing with complex mental disorders.

  • Mar. 5, 2015 11:00 a.m.

Life as a teen can be tough, but for those at Interior Health’s Adolescent Psychiatric Unit (APU), managing home life, school work, and relationships is an overwhelming struggle.

They have complex mental disorders. Some are house bound due to anxiety, while others are at risk of suicide or self-harm. Some are out of contact with reality or have severe mood disorders.

“I had a hard time opening up about depression and anxiety,” says 20-year old Tyler Exner, who spent four weeks at the APU when he was 16. “The nurses, staff and doctors were incredible there. Everything started to come together. It was probably one of the most memorable moments through my mental health recovery,” he says.


Since opening in 2005, the eight-bed unit at Kelowna General Hospital has served those aged 12 – 17 within Interior Health. In B.C., about one in seven young people will have some form of mental disorder at any given time. About 70 per cent of mental disorders surface before age 18.

“The program is made up of committed and passionate staff and physicians who really care about supporting positive mental health for youth. While a youth is on the unit, they, and their family, work with Child Psychiatrists, a Psychologist, an Occupational Therapist, Social Workers, Registered Nurses, Registered Psychiatric Nurses, and Youth Care Counsellors who specialize in caring for youth,” explains APU manager Colleen McEwan.

The unit is designed to be youth and family friendly. The light-filled bedrooms have views of Okanagan Lake. There are activities including outings, art, video games, books, basketball, and foosball. The space also includes a classroom, where a teacher and support worker help youth continue their school studies. There are family meeting rooms, a secure quiet room, and an outdoor patio.

“These are youth with complicated mental health problems. They are here for assessment and diagnostic clarification. We spend time observing and building trust. We use a collaborative problem-solving approach. It takes time and resources, but it allows us to work together in the face of what appear to be ‘behavior problems’ to find mutual solutions,” says medical director Dr. Michael Ocana, one of two psychiatrists with the APU.

Many have long-standing problems that are not expected to resolve completely during their time in the APU. “An important part of the program is working closely with community partners in Child and Youth Mental Health, and referring hospitals and physicians to support the youth and family when they return home,” says McEwan.

To learn more and to watch the new online video, visit the APU page at

The APU and the video were made possible thanks to generous donations through the KGH Foundation. In addition, young volunteers from Cottonwoods Care Centre generously provided their acting skills for the video, to protect patient privacy.

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