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When Is a Mentally Ill Child Ready for Adult Treatment?

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As Canadians we are some of the luckiest citizens in the world because not only do we have access to taxpayer-funded health care but also we have access to some of the best doctors in the world. Maybe it's just me but there seems to be a lot of specialists and departments geared towards treating some of the worlds most chronic and debilitating illnesses. That's not a bad thing; in fact it's a good thing in which I count my blessings for on a daily basis.

More specifically we have doctors and clinics that treat child and adolescent, adult, and geriatric mental illness. I am 40 years shy of needing the services of a geriatric mental health clinic but I'm willing to bet I'll one day need their services since my mental illness is lifelong. But I do have experience being a client in using the services of adolescent mental health clinics and adult mental health clinics.

In Ontario, the provincial government released a 2011 report titled "Open Minds, Healthy Minds," that examines the province's mental health and addictions strategy. It states there is a disconnect between youth who are transitioning from an adolescent clinic to an adult clinic and one of its suggestions is to "Improve transitions between different services, such as between youth and adult services, between adult and senior services, and between the justice and health systems..."

I was recently asked to sit on a panel with representation of people from different parts of Ontario with different backgrounds to advise professionals on this important issue for the next year or so. One of the concerns is when services for youth with mental health difficulties end and the client begins being treated as adults in different clinics with different doctors, different clinicians, and potentially different treatment options. For somebody emotionally fragile this prospect can be extremely frightening and potentially deter them from receiving services as a new adult at a time when they could be most vulnerable.

About a year ago I went through this experience myself and I can attest to just how difficult it was for me to adjust to new doctors with new approaches. I agree that the adult brain may be different from that of an adolescent but in theory the clinical or medical approach should be relatively the same. It was my experience that the adult system lacks empathy or compassion and the team assigned to my care seemed to want to fix the situation as quickly as possible. Then again, this could be a sign as to how strained our health care system is.

What the Ontario health care system needs is a team of professionals that will assist a patient transitioning from the adolescent system to the adult system. I am advocating for this "transitioning team" to help the patient establish a relationship with the team that will overlook their care as an adult. This team could also prepare the patient for a different kind of approach. Most importantly, this team could ensure that the patient feels comfortable that they will be receiving the same level of care and compassion they received as a youth.

If we don't find a way to help youth transition to a new team of professionals then we will continue to see young adult's mental health decline and instead of maintaining or improving their current state of mind. This will lead to the patient being unable to contribute to society and will take an even harder toll on our health care system.

Lets do the right thing and take the steps needed to allow youth transitioning into adults get the mental health care they so badly want, need, and deserve.