News / Edmonton

'Really positive change': Advocate hopes new funding will make life better for struggling kids

CASA announced $5 million Tuesday for the U of A’s department of psychiatry to fund youth mental health and addictions research

Caleb Chomay is a member of the CASA Youth Council.

Kevin Tuong / for metro

Caleb Chomay is a member of the CASA Youth Council.

One mental health advocate hopes a $5-million commitment to the University of Alberta will help struggling kids be seen, heard and taken seriously.

Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health (CASA), a group that works with kids facing a range of mental health and addiction issues, announced the funding Tuesday for the U of A’s department of psychiatry to develop a new research chair in child and adolescent mental health.

“To me, it means that there’s going to be a really positive change in how people treat adolescent mental health,” said Caleb Chomay with CASA’s Youth Council.

Chomay, 19, said he distinctly remembers experiencing depression symptoms as early as age five.

Those feelings made him feel like he was “stupid and worthless,” and he turned to a teacher for help but found none.

“I told her, ‘I hate living, I do not want to exist, what is wrong with me?’” he said.

“She told me I was feeling all the emotions that kids my age feel, and she walked away.”  

That would be a harbinger of things to come.

Chomay felt he was often dismissed by supervisors and counsellors growing up.

He started having anxiety attacks, and was self harming by age 14.

His bumpy road to improvement started when his mom noticed a mark on his arm and called Alberta Health Services. Through therapy and trial and error with medications, Chomay was eventually able to start socializing and making friends.

Now, he aims to help other struggling youth through the CASA youth council, which is made up of Edmontonians aged 15 to 25.  

“The reason I did not seek help or treatment when I required it, was because people did not believe that people like me could suffer from mental illnesses,” Chomay said.

“They did not understand that kids can have depression and anxiety too, it’s just a little bit different.”

CASA CEO Denise Milne said the research chair will allow the organization to focus on developing evidence-based practices to support kids and their families.

She said there is a “huge” need for research in that area.

“There is such a vacancy in the amount of research for children’s mental health,” Milne said.

“We will be contributing evidence back to the field, which is hugely important for quality care.”

The U of A has launched an international search to find the best person for the job, and is also hiring two clinician-scientists to support the position.

The 10-year agreement could also allow the university to recruit other leading psychiatric researchers.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, an estimated 1.2 million Canadian youth are affected by mental illness but less than 20 per cent will receive appropriate treatment.

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