Although this mental health crisis is daunting, there are non-profit resources that you can access or assist. Karen McCleave is a community advocate for early diagnoses and adequate funding of youth mental illness.

Mental Health is a Growing Problem

According to Statistics Canada, roughly 60% of Canadians aged 15-24 reported having difficulties with mental health in 2020. This is a 20% increase from 2018. The CMHA has found that nearly 1 in 5 children and youth in Ontario have had a problem with mental health and that 70% of mental health challenges begin in childhood or youth. What’s more, deterioration in mental health is attributed to COVID-19 measures. Crowdsourced data from CMHA further concluded that “57% of participants aged 15 to 17 reported their mental health as either somewhat worse or much worse than it was before physical distancing measures were implemented.” The mental health crisis is growing. Concern abounds that children and youth are at the precipice of a psychological epidemic.

The Scarcity of Mental Health Resources

The need for more youth mental health funding is clear and compelling. Yet, with so many competing priorities for public money, agencies find themselves scrambling to receive necessary support. Youth Mental Health Canada (YMHC) explains that finding appropriate resources is the best way to help the alarming rate of young people facing mental illness, but that wait times of six months to a year are common in provinces like Ontario. About 75% of children in need of specialised treatment services are unable to access them due to the lack of availability.

Shortening wait times, acquiring needed resources, and raising community funds are all laudable goals to help alleviate the mental health pandemic faced by youth. Karen McCleave knows that providing help to youth in need can start with volunteering.

The Importance of Volunteering in Mental Health

Volunteering can take many forms. You don’t need to be educated or trained in youth mental health to assist. Karen McCleave spent nine years in governance on the Board of Directors and committees at Blue Hills Child and Family Centre (now York Hills) in York Region. This Centre provides services for mentally ill youth and their families. Together with her experience in Youth criminal court during her career as an Assistant Crown Attorney, she developed a commitment to education and adequate resourcing of youth mental health including that of ADHD.

Volunteering and advocating for adequate support and understanding of children’s mental health, McCleave has championed the need for further assistance: “Anyone can help generate local mental health funding. Think of how youth mental health has affected your family, neighbours, friends, schoolmates and co-workers. None of us is untouched by it.” She continues, “I’m proud to have worked with (what is now) the York Hills Child and Family Centre. It taught me a lot about youth mental health, including how much remains to be done. This work will never be finished, but when you see some progress, it is heartening.”

Youth Mental Health Canada agrees that extra support does make a difference. According to their official website, growing international evidence demonstrates that promotion, prevention and early intervention evokes positive reactions from patients.  Volunteering can deepen the benefit for those in need and help them feel better assisted.

How to Get Involved

Volunteering can help to grow the valuable network that is desperately needed. The York Hills Child and Family Centre has programs available for both youth and caregivers alike to help find the best paths possible to bettering mental health. Online opportunities like blogs and webinars are paired with in-person services like Group Therapy, Mental Health Navigation, and Mediation.

“It’s heartbreaking to see the growing youth mental health issues,” Karen McCleave explains, “We all need to get involved. Complacency is not an option. Call your nearest agency. Volunteer at a fund-raiser. Make a donation, if you can. Inquire about programs in which you can assist. Take a step and feel the satisfaction of helping.”