Helping youth on the road to wellness

On Bell Let’s Talk Day, we’re sharing a grant story from our archives as part of the conversation on mental health. We’re proud to continue our support to this critical program that helps reduce barriers to mental health services for Hamilton youth.

It’s described, at least on paper, as a mental health program. But for the high school students seeking help, the first visit is often about something low-risk and straightforward—a sore throat or a sprained ankle.

Nurse practitioner Sue Grafe works part-time at the clinics, one at Sir John A. MacDonald and the other at Cathedral. Once students know it’s safe, they’ll open up about other issues, she says. Depression. Anxiety. Bullying. Their experiences as newcomers to Canada.

Community Foundations of Canada’s national Vital Signs report, some 3.2 million Canadian 12- to 19-year-olds are at risk for developing depression, yet three out of four children and youth who need specialized treatment services do not receive them.

“Provincially, one in five students has a mental health problem,” says public school board trustee, Judith Bishop. “At one of Hamilton’s schools, 31 per cent of students don’t have a family doctor. They tend to be high users of the emergency healthcare system, and that’s not the best care for these kids.”

“I think there’s a disconnect between the need and the resources of the community when it comes to adolescents,” says Sue. “There are just so many barriers to navigate. We’re filling the gap between what they need and where they need to go.”

The pilot program started in September and was busy from the beginning—one school had 81visits at nine half-day clinics. Partnerships with McMaster’s School of Nursing, Newcomer Health and the school boards have created a strong foundation. With HCF’s support the pilot will continue until school endsr. “To be able to carry on until the end of exams is very important,” Sue says. “That’s the students’ time frame.”

The program goal is to connect the students to the larger healthcare system. “It’s not about setting up a separate, parallel service,” says Judith. “We want this to be linked and integrated.” Sue agrees. “We’re opening doors for students. We’re establishing the connections that will help them achieve in the long run.”