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Need Access To Mental Health Services, Expert Says

By JOHN GILLIS Health Reporter

Canadians are concerned about the mental well-being of children, says an adviser to the federal health minister on healthy children and youth.

Parents, experts and health-care providers Dr. Kellie Leitch has met across Canada frequently cite mental health services for children as a top concern. The children themselves have related concerns, she said on a break between meetings in Halifax.

She met with community and aboriginal groups in Truro, health professionals from the IWK Health Centre and young people from around Halifax Regional Municipality.

"You sit at a number of tables with adults all the time and then all of a sudden sit with kids," said Dr. Leitch, who's head of pediatric surgery at the Children's Hospital of Western Ontario and an assistant dean at the University of Western Ontario medical school.

"It's just a stark contrast and the language they use and what they focus on is surprising."

Instead of mental health, the children talk about the stress they face.

"They're stressed about exams, they're stressed about home, they're stressed about how to fit in with their peers," Dr. Leitch said.

She's been surprised that 12- and 13-year-olds in this region are already worrying about where they'll work as adults.

"I think many children are very sophisticated and they've figured out:" "You know what? If I don't have a job, I don't have money, then there's a whole bunch of ramifications for me, " she said.

Factors like employment, education, gender and ethnicity are what academics and health professionals call social determinants of health. The federal government can help improve Canadians' health in childhood and adulthood by addressing some of those factors early on, Dr. Leitch said.

She cited the family resource centres she's seen on her visits to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island this week as an excellent resource, supported in part by the Public Health Agency of Canada, whose work could be reproduced across Canada.

Dr. Leitch said the centres are very good at identifying families in the community with pre-school children who might be at risk of later learning or health problems, and providing the social and educational supports they need to put them on an equal footing with their peers.

"They're great hubs in the community," she said. "They're done extremely well here in Atlantic Canada. Are there some best practices there that we should be emulating in other parts of the country?"

Dr. Leitch said such early, non-medical interventions have the potential to pay great dividends over the long term. But she acknowledged children's concerns sometimes get lost in mix of the larger health-care system when so much attention is paid to things like wait times for care for the aging population.

"Is it a challenge?" she asked. "Yeah, I think it's a big uphill challenge. Children don't vote. Children don't have a voice at the table all the time, and even when they get to sit at the table, they may not every time feel comfortable articulating what they want to articulate."

Dr. Leitch said the process she's been appointed to lead provides an opportunity to bring children's health issues to the attention of the government and the public.

She's due to present her recommendations to Health Minister Tony Clement in July.

(jgillis@herald.ca)

'They're stressed about exams, they're stressed about home, they're stressed about how to fit in with their peers.'

Taken from http://thechronicleherald.ca/Metro/840632.html.

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