OPINION: Region needs one-stop shop approach to youth mental health

GUELPH – There is no denying we are in deep trouble when it comes to mental health and addiction, not only in our community, but across Canada. 

We know that locally, Here 24/7 (mental health and addictions crisis line) receives over 5,000 calls per month and there are over 3,000 people waiting for ongoing care in the mental health and addictions system.

Led by the Rotary Club of Guelph, a grassroots community initiative to bring an integrated youth services model to Wellington County and the city of Guelph is well underway. We know there is more to do, but we decided to focus on youth.

Our vision is one where youth (age 12 – 26) are at the centre of services that are available in our community; where both rural and urban youth have equal access to a continuum of services from health education, to mental health and addiction services. It is a vision where service providers work together to enhance services and build a system to better meet the needs of youth in our community.

We want to build a one-stop shop with multiple locations for young people in need. This would include fully-integrated services for mental health, substance use, primary care, education, employment, training, housing and other community and social services. These locations would promote peer services, outreach, and system-navigation services. Services that emphasize quality, are timely, integrated and co-located would be at the core.

On Nov. 24, the Rotary Cub of Guelph, working collaboratively with the Guelph YMCA/YWCA, the Guelph Community Foundation and the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington, hosted a one-day workshop to examine the viability and willingness to create a youth hub. A wide variety of stakeholders attended the workshop including youth from the Guelph YMCA/YWCA, City of Guelph Youth Council, and Rotaract. Over 30 different agencies listened to a variety of presentations on topics ranging from the current mental health and addiction crisis in Guelph and Wellington County to what a youth-centred model could look like.

Results were not surprising. Everyone acknowledged that there is an overwhelming need to do things differently, that it will take the entire community working together to change the alarming trends and trajectory of what we are currently witnessing. The resounding message was to get this work done and get it done as fast as possible. From this, a steering committee, made up of key partners, was established to develop a model that would work for Guelph and Wellington.  

The initial stage of this project focuses on physical co-locations that are open to both rural and urban youth. There would be a main hub located in Guelph, in a central location, where a youth can access community services in a one-stop-shop model with satellite locations in other areas. 

This new model of care would consist of mental health and addiction services, primary care, employment and other community and social services, all provided through youth-friendly locations that are easily accessible and provide services for both walk-in and appointment based.

Utilizing a hub-and-spoke model, services would be available through the main hub and be connected to locations throughout the county and the city including CMHA (Guelph, Fergus and Mount Forest locations), the Guelph Y, located in the south end of Guelph, and the University of Guelph which engages over 20,000 youth a year.

Our vision is to open this model in 2019 and add locations as on a yearly basis to ensure youth have multi-site access. Simultaneously, we would build a technology component. We know, from listening to youth, that they want access to a physical location, to know someone local is available and they want to be able to reach out through technology when they are in need. They want to know that someone who knows their local community is available to assist them.

Youth involvement from the beginning is critical. These spaces would be co-designed by youth to ensure the spaces are what youth want and where they want to be. The need is for more than simply a mental health and addiction component but would also include a safe place to hang out with peers, to access computers, entertainment and an array of services to reduce the stigma associated with mental health. 

We are currently engaging youth through existing youth councils in the county and city and moving forward with our plans.  We welcome your inquiries.

To learn more or to get involved, email integratedyouthservicemodel@gmail.com.

Submitted by 

Cyndy Moffat Forsyth,