Addiction stats disturbing: report

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Wednesday June 1, 2011

By Chris Traber

York Region Media Group

A York Region high school student, the product of a split and dysfunctional family, suffering from depression and self mutilation, had to wait months to see a psychiatrist. Only when the teen attempted suicide was hospital-based care offered.

A teenaged newcomer, trying to appease parents who didn’t understand the nuances of youth culture, grew increasingly despondent, frozen by the stigma of depression and lack of help. 

A pair of teenagers and an adult in their early 20s are found dead by their own hand after being released from a York Region hospital psychiatric ward.
The stories relating to the pain and suffering of mental health and addiction challenges play out in real life daily through our communities, health and social service professionals and anti-poverty advocates attest. 

There’s a growing substance abuse and addiction epidemic among youth from affluent York Region families. 

And the problems are growing, the newly formed Ontario Mental Health & Addictions Alliance said in a report released Tuesday. Timely and appropriate care for mental health or addiction problems depend largely on where you live, leaving tens of thousands of Ontarians struggling to get the care they deserve, the survey stated. 
The facts, statistics and outcomes are numerous and disturbing. 

The alliance, an amalgam of 10 provincial organizations, including regional representation through the York Region branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said unequal access to mental health and addiction services threatens Ontarians. As such, by joining forces, the consortium wants to mobilize an awareness initiative and, at the same time, ask provincial political parties to act toward solving the most pressing challenges of mental illness and addiction.

“I have to say this is great,” association regional branch chief executive officer Colleen Zakoor said of the alliance. “Never before have so many significant players been pulled together.”

Funding and service inequities across the province affect Ontarians from all walks of life, the report stated. The wait for supportive housing in one jurisdiction is 1,097 days, nearly four times higher than the provincial average of 290 days.  

For residential addiction treatment, the average wait is 41 days, but is five times higher in the Central East Local Health Integration Network region. 
Children and youth also face unequal access to mental health care. Per capita funding for community mental health ranges from $18.54 in one region to $124.78 in another, creating wildly uneven access to services across the province.

York Region is not exempt, Ms Zakoor said, noting we lack a residential detox facility and there’s only one early psychosis centre staffed by 10 people. Poverty compounds mental health and addiction challenges. Wait lists for subsidized and supportive housing are years long and growing. The association treats 1,500 clients annually. Ms Zakoor estimates, conservatively, more than 10,000 residents would benefit from care if funding was available.

“It’s about equity of services,” she said. “Millions are provided to hospitals for bricks and mortar, but there’s never enough for mental health and addiction services. It’s not congruent with the LHIN plan. From a helicopter view, things look good. But if you walk with us on the ground, it’s different and frustrating.”

The independent movement to stir political will in York Region is growing and necessary, Concord New Hope United Church Rev. Jim Keenan said. 
With a mandate to research, educate and advocate on behalf of youth with mental health issues, he serves as co-chairperson of the newly established Vaughan Social Action Council. The service gaps and challenges are huge, he said. 

Vaughan mental health services receive only one third of the provincial funding average. Citing anecdotal case histories and municipal statistics, Rev. Keenan said 10 per cent of students suffer from depression and anxiety, 33 per cent from psychological distress and only 7 per cent get treatment.
“Funding should be distributed on the basis of population and growth,” he said. 

The government needs to develop policies in addition to funding formulas, he added. His council and the alliance is a step in the right direction.

“Getting service providers to share and not duplicate ideas is very good,” he said. “A collaborative table is invaluable. There’s still a lot of waste in social services funding. The key is to have two-way communications with policy makers and have organizations nimble enough to change.” 

Through the Ontario legislature’s select committee on mental health and addictions, all three political parties have agreed the province needs a comprehensive mental health and addictions plan.

“Treatment for mental health and addiction issues right now is determined by your postal code,” Schizophrenia Society of Ontario president Mary Alberti said. “Ontarians have a right to timely and effective care, no matter where they live.”

Early intervention is crucial when treating mental illness and addictions and supportive housing is vital for recovery and rehabilitation,” Centre for Addiction and Mental Health president Dr. Catherine Zahn said. 

“Investing in mental health and addiction services is not only the right thing to do, it also makes economic sense,” she said.

Solutions exist, at least in the short term, Ms Zakoor said. She recommends a focus on expanding on existing services and facilities. The early psychosis centre treats up to 90 youth per year. For an extra $800,000, the centre could double services.

• For alliance information, visit 
• For details on the Vaughan Social Action Council, visit