04/09/2013 03:36 EDT | Updated 06/09/2013 05:12 EDT

BC Mental Health System For Teens Is Fractured: Watchdog


VANCOUVER - British Columbia's mental health system for teens is a fractured, confusing and frustrating experience for families trying to help their children, B.C.'s children's watchdog said in a report released Tuesday.

The report by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said mental health services for children between the ages of 16 and 19 is a patchwork of services that are inconsistent from region to region across the province.

Her report found serious shortcomings and poor communication in a mental health system that isn't doing enough to help children with mental health trouble or their families.

"The results of this review paint a disturbing picture which is well characterized by this comment from a physician participant: 'The system is broken. I've become so angry, frustrated and burnt out. The biggest frustration is the systemic disarray.'"

Turpel-Lafond's office surveyed hundreds of youth, parents, caregivers and professionals who work with youth with mental health problems for the review. Information on the experiences of 89 families who tried to use the system was also used for the report.

"Indeed, this review reveals a fractured youth mental health system in B.C. that is confusing and frustrating for youth and their families to navigate," the report concluded.

Long waiting lists, some for more than a year, were highlighted in the report. Turpel-Lafond said as many has half those surveyed said they were told they'd have to wait. One family had to wait until their daughter became violent before a semblance of help appeared.

It's simply not good enough, the report said.

"For adolescents and those entering their adult years, this is a prime window for prevention, intervention and treatment."

But the report said without proper treatment, that window could be slammed shut and the consequences can be life-long.

The report said promises of a 2003 report to improve the mental health system for children have gone unfulfilled.

"The review can only conclude that there remains a distinct lack of provincial leadership and accountability."

Turpel-Lafond suggested the "leadership void" be addressed with the creation of a minister of state for youth mental health who would be responsible for building a three-year plan to create a coherent mental health program for teens.

Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid acknowledged the findings in the report.

"What we see from this report is there's a particularly vulnerable population that has two transitions, an age transition and a between-ministries transition that we are not managing well enough today and we need to address that."

As for Turpel-Lafond's recommendation of the appointment of a minister of state for youth mental health, MacDiarmid said that would be up to the next government.

The report also singled out communication lapses as a major concern.

Child and youth mental health workers told investigators they were only notified about half the time if their clients went to the emergency room in a crisis situation. Family doctors interviewed said when mental health staff conducted an assessment of one of their patients they see the report only about 50 per cent of the time.