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Mental health survey looks at children and youth in Red Deer

Parent and guardians experiences accessing services for children

Families are being urged to participate in a survey that looks at the state of mental health and addictions services available for children and youth in Red Deer.

Christine Stewart, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association in Red Deer, said many parents are desperate for help and this is the chance to tell their story.

“We know wait times at the hospital are significant. I can’t even tell you how many stories I’ve been told of parents who have gone to the hospital for supports for their kids who were turned away because they were full, or there was no psychiatrist to see them,” Stewart said.

“I know parents that are putting themselves on a 24-hour suicide watch for their kids because they don’t know what else to do.”

The Health Quality Council of Alberta, in partnership with Alberta Health, launched the survey and wants to hear from parents and guardians with children age six to 18 who have used the mental health and addictions services in order to improve transitions in care and connection to supports in the community.

Red Deer is one of five Alberta communities included in the survey. For information on how to participate call toll-free 1-877-545-1665.

Stewart said a lot of the time, patients at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre end up on portable beds in hallways waiting to be seen by staff. Accessing services at Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury in Ponoka can also be difficult.

She said there are also children and youth who don’t need hospitalization, but there is a lack of options across the spectrum of care. More supports are needed for parents in the community, she said.

“Just because you have a counselling appointment for next week, doesn’t mean you’ll get any sleep until then. And there’s no overnight solution once you get to a counsellor either.”

She said the opioid crisis has grown because social dysfunction has grown, and more addiction treatment is also needed.

“We’ve got more people struggling with depression. We’ve got more people struggling with anxiety. And over years untreated, it can turn into addictions of various kinds or health problems. So really figuring out how to serve our youth better, and getting them the supports they need, is going to help in the long term with many of these other situations,” Stewart said.

Chad Erickson, associate superintendent of student services at Red Deer Public Schools, said the district has received information about the survey to pass on to parents.

“The survey is going to help inform practice in the future. We are in support of that and learning more about how we can further support our students and families as they navigate these systems,” Erickson said.

The district has learning support teams of professionals in every building that can refer students to community agencies. Alberta Health Services therapists are also working in some schools as part of a pilot project.

A full report of the findings to Alberta Health will be publicly available by November.