News / Calgary

Spike in youth mental health discharges highlight need for more Alberta services

AHS says it’s improving mental health service to fill the gap

Metro File Photo

The number of kids and youth who’ve received mental health treatment in acute beds has jumped over the last decade.

A week after the government unveiled its mental health review, newly released statistics paint what advocates are calling a system with “revolving door syndrome.”

In 2015, Calgary Zone hospitals made 1,460 youth mental health discharges from acute care spaces, a spike of 150 per cent from 583 discharges in 2003.

Acute care spaces are not designated as beds for mental health, according to Alberta Health Services (AHS).

Rick Lundy, founder of Open Arms Patient Advocacy Society, noted numerous Albertan families have navigated a fragmented system, only to get help once their children end up in hospital.

He said there aren’t enough outpatient resources to keep kids and their families from going to emergency rooms.

“The hospitals fill up and they also get them out as quick as they can,” he said. “The problem is going to get worse, worse and worse if these resources aren’t implemented.”

According to Julie Kerr — AHS senior operating officer of Community, Rural and Mental Health for Calgary Zone — the spike in youth discharges from acute care spaces is due to numerous reasons, which include population growth in children and an increase in immigration and emigration

She noted there’s a trend in increased utilization for mental health services across the country, indicating the de-stigmatization of mental health could mean more people have sought help.

In 2014, Alberta Health Services added 14 new adolescent inpatient mental health at Foothills Medical Centre and, in 2013, created eight new mental health beds at the South Health Campus.

She said the population growth has made it difficult for AHS to keep up with adding new mental health services.

“It’s an area where we’re constantly looking to improve services and fill gaps to meet people’s needs,” she said.

Though Lundy commended AHS for adding more mental health spaces, he said it’s not enough.

“They’ve made a few steps, but It’s very minimal what they’ve done,” he said.

The government’s Mental Health Review plans to increase outpatient services to bridge the fragmented system, though funds for many of such recommendations haven’t been finalized.

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