Children’s Mental Health Ontario
Established in 1972 as the Ontario Association of Children’s Mental Health Centres (OACMHC), Children’s Mental Health Ontario (CMHO) represents and supports the providers of child and youth mental health treatment services throughout the province. Today the core membership consists of 80 community-based children’s mental health centres that serve some 150,000 children and their families each year.
Studies estimate that 1 in 5 Ontario children under the age of 19 experiences a mental health problem severe enough to seriously affect the child’s daily functioning at home, school or within the community. The good news is that mental health problems can be recognized and treated. Research has proven that early intervention leads to better treatment options and outcomes for children. Some of the more common mental health disorders affecting children and youth are anxiety disorders, depression, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), Conduct Disorder and other behaviour problems such as uncontrolled anger, eating disorders and substance abuse.
Gordon Floyd, President and CEO of CMHO, told The Canadian Business Journal, “CMHO serves as a hub where children’s mental health agencies exchange information and advocate for policies, programs and funding to improve the state of children’s mental health in Ontario. We help raise awareness about the 1 in 5 children who are affected by mental health problems. Our members are community-based treatment centres across the province. These centres address a variety of children’s mental health challenges, whether they are emotional or behavioural. We also work closely with schools, youth justice services and other organizations that serve children and youth to provide treatment services to young people who have been identified as having mental health challenges. The community agencies we work with are connected to the medical system, as some children may have extreme needs that require medical intervention. However, community-based services primarily involve counselling, with medically-supervised drug treatment usually playing a secondary role, if it’s needed at all.”
CMHO is committed to creating a sustainable system of mental health services for Ontario’s youth. Leading by example, CMHO is governed by a board of directors made up of volunteers and children’s mental health professionals who represent all regions of the province. Community mental health services are usually managed by psychologists or social workers and many services are provided by child youth workers, but they always have access to psychiatric services.
The community-based system is much more affordable than the medical system where the costs of physicians, hospitals and pharmaceuticals can be very high.
Yet community agencies get outstanding results because they use the latest treatment approaches proven to help children affected by mental health challenges.
Compared to adults, children can often receive effective treatment without the use of medication because professionals are addressing their mental health issues at an early stage, before they become more ingrained and more complicated. To this Floyd said, “The primary challenge is to identify children who have needs early; usually it’s parents or teachers who will notice that a child is struggling in some way that may indicate there is a mental health problem. Screening tools then determine what the nature of the problem may be and based on the screening results the social workers and psychologists develop a treatment plan. Most often with children the treatment begins with some kind of counselling approach. For a young child, this approach is not as likely to be talk therapy as creating and observing a play situation to learn how the child deals with different situations. However – no matter what the child’s age – the first level of intervention is usually one that doesn’t involve medication unless it’s determined that it would benefit the child.”
According to Floyd, a fair number of children who are screened at an early enough stage have their problems resolved reasonably quickly, sometimes as fast as a few months or even weeks. Some children whose problems are more serious may need intensive treatment for as long as two to three years. Floyd said, “Almost all children who are treated in a community-based system continue to live at home, coming to meet with a counselor on a weekly basis. Some may be schooled in special classrooms with special support staff while remaining at home. There is a small number whose problems are so serious and whose home life is so out of the ordinary that they will be removed from their day-to-day environment and live in a group home, in a residential setting, so they can get things back on track.”
CMHO requires its member agencies to meet ‘best practice’ accreditation standards every four years, assisting them in continuous improvement of their services. These standards are developed based on approaches that have been proven to be most effective.
In the 40 years since CMHO was established, major strides have been made to build awareness and understanding of child and youth mental health among Ontario’s general public, government and allied professionals. “Gone are the days when we thought that mental health issues were limited to adults facing adult challenges. The mental health of our children and youth is being discussed more and more every day. There are more effective and timely treatment options available for children than ever before, but there is still more to be done.”
CMHO continues to champion the right of every child and youth in Ontario to mental health and wellbeing, and urges parents and professionals to educate themselves about what they can do if a child or youth close to them is suffering.