Citizens With Disabilities - Ontario


Rights Of Mentally Ill Youth Must Be A National Priority

Thu. Mar 20 - 6:18 AM

According to the World Health Organization, mental disorders contribute almost one-third of the global burden of disease during adolescent years. In Canada, between 15 and 20 per cent of youth suffer from a mental disorder that would benefit from appropriate care. Early and effective identification and intervention for young people suffering from mental illness is essential because as many as half of all lifetime cases onset before 14 years of age and 75 per cent by age 24. Although effective treatments for many of these disorders are known, they are often not provided to young people who need them.

Furthermore, there may be insufficient attention being paid to fundamental human rights of some young people who are suffering from mental disorders. According to the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child - 1959 (to which Canada is a signatory)

"no child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."

This declaration goes on to state that

"the child who is physically, mentally or socially handicapped shall be given the special treatment, education and care required by his particular condition."

The UN resolution Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and the Improvement of Mental Health Care, 1991, states:

"All persons with a mental illness, or who are being treated as such persons, shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person."

The Canada Health Act (1985) similarly seeks to protect and promote the physical and mental well-being of all Canadians. The rights to protect young people with mental disorders are in place, but the shortcomings fall within the enforcement and provision of these rights.

There is a critical situation of mental health care for young people in Canada, resulting from stigma, lack of easily available mental health care, lack of health providers trained in mental health competencies, complexities of addressing multiple needs of the mentally ill, and chronic underfunding of mental health services, among many other things.

Due to substantial gaps in appropriate mental health care, many young people are being placed in detention facilities simply because there is nowhere else to go. Behaviours rooted in mental disorders are being punished rather than being treated. Alarmingly, some observers have noted that youth detention centres may be the newly emerging youth mental health care system.

Identified as the "orphan of the orphan" in the Kirby Commission Report (2006), child and youth mental health care is not high on many provincial or federal government agendas. The recent establishment of the Mental Health Commission of Canada is a step in the right direction.

If 15 to 20 per cent of our young people suffered from cardiac disease, there would be a national campaign for the treatment of heart problems in every community. Yet, only one in five of young Canadians requiring mental health care receive it. And the provided "care" is not necessarily effective or consistent with the recognition of the human rights of those who receive it.

Clearly, the situation must change. In Canada, only four of 10 provinces have created child and youth mental health policies/plans and there is no national child and youth mental health policy. Current human resources are inadequate to meet child and youth mental health care needs, and traditional means of providing specialist care by single professionals, as compared to multidisciplinary teams, may impede accessibility to mental health care for young people.

Providers of mental health services may require upgrading of clinical training, as substantial changes in the understanding of the development and treatment of mental disorders in young people have been made in the last decade. These advancements have yet to be fully translated into treatment approaches. Although research funding into child and youth mental health care through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research has increased over the last five years, enhanced and targeted funding is needed to allow for the further identification of the most effective treatments and delivery systems.

Mental health care for young Canadians is a right, not a privilege. It must be provided in a manner that is equally based on the best available scientific evidence, the developmentally unique needs of children and youth, and recognition of the principles of the human rights of the child and of those suffering with mental disorders.

It is a tragedy that young people expecting appropriate mental health care are treated in a manner that offends their basic humanity. It is a tragedy that young people suffering from mental disorders do not have the right to care provided in a way that adheres to developmental issues. And it is a tragedy that young people suffering from a mental disorder do not have the right to care based on best scientific evidence.

Children and youth must work in collaboration with their primary care givers to advocate for appropriate care and systematic change at the government level. The time for talking has passed. It is time for provincial and federal governments to do what is right by putting child and youth mental health on the federal-provincial health agenda as a national health priority.

Dr. Stan Kutcher is Sun Life Financial Chair in adolescent mental health and director, World Health Organization Collaborating Centre in Mental Health, Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre. Dr. Simon Davidson is executive director, planning and development, and Dr. Ian Manion is executive director, operations, at the Provincial Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health, Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

Reproduced from

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