News / Vancouver

58,000 kids with mental health disorders in B.C. ‘not being treated’

Canadian Mental Health Association conference hears of treatment ‘shortfall’ for seven-in-ten children that’s costing taxpayers down the road.

North Vancouver MLA Jane Thornthwaite, the BC Liberal government’s parliamentary secretary for child mental health and bullying, speaks at the Canadian Mental Health Association B.C.'s Before Stage 4 conference in Victoria on Wednesday.

David P. Ball / Metro Order this photo

North Vancouver MLA Jane Thornthwaite, the BC Liberal government’s parliamentary secretary for child mental health and bullying, speaks at the Canadian Mental Health Association B.C.'s Before Stage 4 conference in Victoria on Wednesday.

If you took all B.C.’s 58,000 kids not getting needed treatment for mental illness — and put them in one place — they’d number nearly the population of New Westminster.

That number represents seven in every ten children in the province who have a mental health disorder, according to research presented at the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) B.C.’s conference in Victoria this week.

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“These shortfalls would never be tolerated for childhood infectious diseases, diabetes or cancer,” said Charlotte Waddell, director of the Children’s Mental Health Policy Centre at Simon Fraser University, in a speech. “(They) can no longer be tolerated for children’s mental health.”

And according to the CMHA B.C., which hosted its Before Stage 4 provincial conference from Monday to Wednesday, it’s not as if those children are untreatable.

The most common mental health issues amongst people under 16 are anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, and substance use disorders, which the association said in a statement “are also three of the most preventable.”

“There are just a lack of services for kids,” Sue Hammell, the B.C. New Democrat critic for mental health and addictions, told Metro in an interview, “and as a result kids are just being lost.

“The sooner you react, provide a service, and deal with a problem, the more likely you are to reduce the illness.”

Also attending the conference Wednesday was North Vancouver MLA Jane Thornthwaite, who is the BC Liberal government’s parliamentary secretary for child mental health and bullying and chair of B.C.’s Select Standing Committee for Children and Youth.

“I have been tasked with … advocating for children and youth, and helping make their lives easier by ensuring they have access to the mental health supports that will help them thrive,” she said in a speech.

In late 2014, her standing committee traveled across the province speaking to children and youth suffering from mental illness, their families, and mental health professionals; it’s report “identified problems” in B.C.’s system and issued 23 recommendations for change.

“We know that 27,000 of those children and youth receive some level of support, but that number indicates there’s so many more who aren’t receiving the help that they need when they need it,” she said. “Because of the stigma, people are not as inclined to seek help when they need it — and even if they do seek it the waiting lists are sometimes too long or not where the family or child is.

“The government recognizes we’ve got to work on that.”

Hammell called on the B.C. government to create a comprehensive plan for mental wellness programs for children, which she characterized as often “siloed” and uncoordinated between different provincial ministries.

The crisis, she added, also requires increased spending on essential services — which she argued would actually save taxpayers in the future if illnesses remain untreated.

“The problem is we have not invested in the services and the structure to respond to the kids that need help when they’re young,” Hammell said. “And that’s tragic and it will cost us more down the road.”

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