Mental health support a priority for young Scarborough voters

Ontario election opportunity for youth to make their voices heard

NDP Scarborough Centre candidate Neethan Shan. Shan supports universal youth mental health care. (Rob Shelton/Toronto Observer)
Neethan Shan, NDP candidate for Scarborough Centre. Shan supports universal youth mental health care. (Rob Shelton/Toronto Observer) 

Access to mental health care is a key issue for many young, first-time Scarborough voters in the upcoming June 2 provincial election.

As young people continue to deal with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the health-care system, the election is an opportunity for voters to demand action.

“Youth mental health care is an important issue,” said Meshell Awan, the communications manager for Future Majority, a national non-partisan advocate for youth priorities. “Youth want access in a timely manner.”

Awan said the high concentration of young people in Scarborough gives them political clout.

“Politicians need to pay attention (to youth),” she said.

Mental health care services stretched

Youth have good reason to be concerned over mental health care availability. The wait to see a psychiatrist at all three campuses of Scarborough and Rouge Hospital (SRH) is 12 weeks, said Erin Anstey, SRH manager of outpatient and community mental-health programs, in a article.

The pandemic has made things worse. The Canadian Medical Health Association (CMHA) Ontario, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting mental health, reports that average wait times for children and youth is 67 days for counselling and therapy services and 92 days for intensive treatment.

Political parties committed to increasing mental health care

Politicians appear to be listening to young voters. All four of the major political parties in Ontario have committed to improving youth mental health-care services in their election platforms.

The NDP is promising universal publicly funded health care. 

“I haven’t seen anything as strong as the current NDP platform that addresses youth mental health directly,” said Neethan Shan, NDP candidate for Scarborough Centre. 

Shan, a former teacher and Scarborough school trustee, said the NDP campaign is focused on making mental health care more accessible, adding that more people will start to access the services if they don’t have to pay for it out of pocket.

The PC Party will invest $24.3 million to hire additional staff and focus on programs for youth mental health service providers. The Liberals have committed to a $3 billion increase in funding to help train 1,000 new at-risk youth mental health workers. The Green Party would add $6.6 billion over four years for publicly funded mental health care services, investing in more Youth Wellness Hubs.

Cultural differences, language pose additional roadblocks

Accessing public mental health services is already a major challenge due to funding, but cultural differences and language can also create barriers.

“The Asian community has a strong stigma towards mental illness,” said Kennes Lin, youth and family services lead for Hong Fook Mental Health Association. The ethno-cultural community agency provides mental health services to Asian youth and families in Scarborough.

According to Lin, language further complicates matters as many first generation immigrants have trouble communicating their needs. Many young newcomers often won’t try to access needed care.

“The situation in Scarborough is not much different than from 40 years ago,” said Lin. “That is when psychiatrists first saw Vietnamese refugees who needed mental health care, but who could not describe the personal challenges they faced.

Funding is important, Lin said, especially for more ethnic organizations to support newcomers.

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Posted: Jun 1 2022 12:30 pm
Filed under: Health Mental Health News Vote On Scarbz