Mental health has been called the “orphan” of the Canadian health system, and children’s mental health, the “orphan’s orphan”. Finding services can be daunting, and often parents are not aware or informed of the obstacles they might face until they try to get help for a child. Stigma, while lessening, is still a barrier to seeking help, but “mental health” is really no different from physical health; in fact, many “physical” conditions are very closely related to our mental state.
Seeing mental health in this way is especially important when it comes to our children, as many of these issues can cause difficulties with learning, and problems with behaviour can affect the family and other relationships. These difficulties can often lead to long-lasting problems. As such, early assessment and intervention is essential.
In Canada, mental health services are offered in both the public and private systems. In Ontario, OHIP covers services by medical doctors, including psychiatrists. Service provided in children’s mental health centres and schools, regardless of professional (psychologist, social worker, speech and language pathologist) is also covered by the Ontario government.
However, waiting lists for such things as psycho-educational (learning) and other assessments, and help with anxiety, depression, etc., are often very long, sometimes leading to waits of over a year. With such long waiting lists and the lack of mental health professionals, particularly those specializing with children, parents often have difficult decisions about how to obtain the help they need.
Early intervention is so important, but often the only way to get immediate help is from private health care providers. About one third of all health services in Canada are provided in the private sector. For example, dentistry and vision care are mainly delivered privately, and due to the recognition of the importance of these services and the impact on our well-being, people will use private insurance or pay out-of-pocket if necessary.
Unfortunately mental health does not typically get the same attention, and people will assume “I can handle it” or “it will just go away.” Like bad vision or cavities, though, mental health concerns rarely disappear on their own, and often not before causing other problems in the meantime. We should be placing the same emphasis on our mental and emotional well-being as we do on our physical health, and helping to educate others to do the same.
Paul Hommersen, Ph.D., Clinical Psychology, helps children and families at The Clinic For Emotional Wellness, Inc in Vaughan, Ontario.
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