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Early mental health supports for kids key for healthy teens, say experts

Detox beds and addictions treatment was among the government’s recommendations

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman

Metro File

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman

If kids are treated for their mental health at a young age, there’s a lesser chance they’ll end up in detox centres in their teens, according to health experts.

In the government’s Mental Health Review, immediate recommendations largely deal with treating addictions through new detox beds and developing an opiate addictions plan.

Many Albertan families say they’ve navigated a fragmented system, unable to get the early, appropriate supports in schools and family counselling. Some finally get support when their child is hospitalized.

Though the report says it plans to improve mental health educational programs in schools and new ways to access therapists — among others — those recommendations plan to be implemented within a timeframe of one to four years.

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman pledged to implement all recommendations, though only when finances permit. The government also hasn’t determined the cost of implementing the other recommendations.

Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne said the government chose the initial six due to their immediacy.

“When we talk about early intervention and preventative care, that definitely speaks to both inter-ministerial and partnerships in the communities as well as other service providers,” she said. “For us it’s important to be working in collaboration inside and outside of government to make sure we move forward with this.”

For Pat Kostouros, associate professor of child studies and sexual violence at Mount Royal University, the immediate action on detox centres makes sense, given the province’s fentanyl crisis.

She said detox beds are still needed but, if early intervention is effective, there’s a greater chance the kid won’t turn to drugs and alcohol.

She said drugs and alcohol are a way for kids to self-medicate — they aren’t aware it’s their mental health condition affecting them.

“The best intervention is working with the family,” she said.

Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann agreed, adding if early treatment is effective then some kids may never see a detox bed.

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