Youth in Manitoba facing long waits for mental health services

Children and youth have been a priority for mental health services in Manitoba since a review pinpointed the age group as being at risk several years ago.

Now, those treating kids and their families say two years of on-and-off isolation is only adding to the issue, leaving families eager to find supports for their children instead of finding themselves on a waitlist.

At New Directions, a family social service provider in Winnipeg, there is an urgent need for a child and family psychologist.

“Hunting for a psychologist that can fit into our work here is a challenge and just finding a psychologist to work is a challenge,” said Dr. Lindsay Woods, the director of the clinical services, multidisciplinary assessment and consultation centre at New Directions

In the last six months, Woods said the wait for an initial child assessment at the clinic has ballooned from a few months to a little under a year.

“It’s hard to answer those phone calls and let people know, especially people that have been calling around several places and all they’ve received is, ‘I have no room. I have no room,” Woods said.

Woods said not only does Manitoba have the fewest practitioners in this field per capita in Canada, but the demand for mental health supports for children and youth is increasing, partly because of the pandemic.

“We’re hearing a couple of months to six months to sometimes two years people are waiting to have their kids access services,” said Dr. Jo Ann Unger, child and clinical psychologist and president of the Manitoba Psychological Society.

Unger said it is hard to quantify wait times for child and youth mental health services in both the private and public systems.

A Shared Health spokesperson told CTV News Winnipeg that “wait times for treatment will depend on acuity levels as well as what specific supports a patient needs.”

Unger said funding targeted at psychological services, which can cost hundreds of dollars a session out-of-pocket, isn’t increasing at a fast enough pace

“Right now, for the most part, people can access resources to be able to fund medication treatment but it is a challenge to find funded psychological services,” Unger said.

A provincial spokesperson told CTV News Winnipeg that mental health funding goes to organizations providing services and, “therefore, it is difficult to provide specific funding allocations for children and youth.”

Woods’ advice to families in search of help is to get on as many waitlists as possible.

“See who can see you first, because sometimes things pop up or openings come up,” Woods said.

The province also said dozens of mental health, substance use and addictions initiatives have been announced since 2019. These programs are worth close to $60 million.

The province said it’s developed a five-year roadmap to improve the system.

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