By Melissa Villeneuve
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Frustrated at the lack of facilities to help high-risk teenagers in southern Alberta, two local grandmothers are taking matters into their own hands.
Beryl Brantner and Molly Hollihan hope to pave the way for a pilot program through a letter-writing campaign called Every Voice Counts, and are determined to create better care for the future generation.
The best friends both have teenage grandsons with different issues including ADHD, depression and self-harm.
Brantner says her grandson was assessed as treatable through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Program (CAMP) at Chinook Regional Hospital.
But when Brantner started investigating appropriate care facilities, she found they were few and far between.
“In a nutshell, what it boils down to is there is no extra help,” said Brantner. “There’s no intensive help for kids with mental problems, preteen through 17. You turn 18, and in addiction and mental health there are some very good private facilities, but when we’re dealing with this formative age, nothing.”
Her grandson is counselled through Community Mental Health (CMH), which is meant to be more short-term, and Brantner says his counsellor agreed there is nothing out there.
“We’re almost plugging up the system,” she said of his six-year counselling. “So we just decided we’ve got to make noise. We’ve got to bring awareness. Until I started to look, I had no clue there was nothing.”
She said there are some private facilities across Canada, but they are far away and have long wait lists.
In Calgary, a city of more than one million people, she said there are three facilities, and only Hull Services has one cabin for ADHD kids. The manager there said the wait list is long for Calgary residents, let alone an out-of-town patient.
“They need a proper residential facility where the youth can be worked with one-on-one in positive surroundings with proper counselling. And you have to counsel the families, otherwise you’re putting the kid back in the same atmosphere.”
Brantner admits changes won’t happen before her own grandson meets adulthood, but is continuing the charge so other families don’t have to suffer in the same way.
“You know, they are our future. It’s something like 70 per cent of adult mental health problems are showing up in youth already, and if dealt with there, how much of that would be cut down? The statistics out there just make you want to weep.”
According to the Canadian Mental Health website, up to 20 per cent of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder, and only one in five children who need mental health services receives them. And mental disorders in youth are ranked as the second highest hospital care expenditure in Canada, surpassed only by injuries.
Nearly 80 per cent of kids who receive mental health services receive them from their family doctor, said Brantner.
“Let’s redirect funds to stop things before they’re a problem. These kids are awesome and they all deserve a chance. We don’t want anything fancy.”
She says a number of places within the Alberta Health Services system, such as the seniors centre in Barons that closed, could be used as a residence with “minimal rehab.”
Last Sept., the grandmothers met with local MLAs regarding their concerns.
In Nov., they attended the regional board meeting for the Oldman River Health Advisory Council. The Council voted to support the initiative, she said, and have written the province requesting a pilot project for a residential facility in the south for at-risk youth intensive counselling.
They’ve even contacted high profile names such as Sheldon Kennedy, Theo Fleury and Vancouver Sun editor Peter McKnight.
And this month, they completed a mass mailout of letters and emails to clinics, counsellors, doctors, government agencies, churches, and school divisions asking for their written support.
They are asking for the public’s assistance with the Every Voice Counts letter-writing campaign. Letters would be sent to both the Minister of Health and the Minister of Human Services.