Mental health is something that has been a hot topic over the past few years. Slowly, the idea that everyone’s mental health needs to be cared for, just as much as physical health, is becoming more mainstream and the stigma about mental illness is melting away. However, the question remains: what to do once you have decided that you or your child might be in need of support.
Samantha Kutowy is the president and co-founder of the Ontario Parenting Connection, a group in North Grenville whose goals are to connect parents with resources and to promote discussion in the community. “We [as parents] would meet up at the park, birthday parties, and at the bus stop, and people would bring up issues and start conversations; but it wouldn’t go anywhere,” Samantha says. “So, we thought we should start a non-profit so that we could address some of these issues and be a little more proactive and make some substantial changes in the community for families.”
Samantha says that, in her experience, there are several issues which are brought up repeatedly by parents, one of which is the lack of sufficient services in the community to support their children’s mental health. A recent survey done by the Ontario Parenting Connection found that 40% of parents want to see more services in the community. According to the survey, mental health is also one of the top three priorities for parents in the area.
The leader in mental health services for children in North Grenville and the surrounding area is Children’s Mental Health of Leeds and Grenville, whose Kemptville office is located on Clothier Street. According to their website, they offer a myriad of services for assessment, treatment, and prevention of mental health issues for children. Although they are an excellent resource, many of their programs, including a weekly walk-in clinic, are run out of their main office in Brockville, up to a 40-minute drive for most people in North Grenville. Programs are also run during the day, so parents have to take time off work, and take their kids out of school, in order to access the help they need. “It’s also about quality of life for the kids,” Samantha says. “A lot of kids are missing out on after-school activities. They don’t want to spend two hours at night in the car. It’s not an ideal situation especially for young children.”
Another big barrier for accessing mental health services is funding. Even if psychological services were available in North Grenville, they would likely come at a price, as OHIP does not currently cover psychological therapy. Some insurance providers do provide some coverage, but it is often not enough to pay for the hundreds of dollars that can be charged for a single visit to a psychologist. “I think the province, and society as a whole, should see the value in providing that as a service to people at a free, or significantly subsidized, rate,” Samantha says. “We take our children to the dentist regularly as a preventative measure, but we don’t do anything for their mental health as a preventative.”
The schools in North Grenville are making an effort to help bolster the mental health of their students. The Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario (CDSBEO) ran a community partner day last month, to which all the mental health partners in the community were invited, in an effort to create an open discussion about how they could work together to serve the young people in the community. “Our goal is to have people talking to each other,” says the CDSBEO Mental Health Lead, Michelle Neville. “Our approach is to work closely with community partners.”
The CDSBEO also has three mental health and addiction nurses that come to their schools on a weekly basis to meet with students who may be struggling, and they are constantly coming up with new ways to get their students engaged, involved, and thinking about mental health. The Upper Canada District School Board also runs programs in their schools that are meant to look after the mental well-being of their students. They also have Mental Health Leads (a position funded by the province) who bring evidence-based programs and resources into their schools and liaise with community resources. That being said, Michelle from the CDSBEO says there are definitely areas that need to be bolstered and improved within the community, to make sure no child falls through the cracks. “The community is developing and building,” she says. “Crisis support and substance abuse services are definitely lacking.”
North Grenville is a growing community with more and more families moving here every year. “One of the issues that North Grenville faces, as a growing community with lots of young families coming here to raise their children, is that the services aren’t coming with them,” Samantha says. “It could be a deterrent for people buying homes in the area, if they don’t have services locally.”
Children are the future of the community and, with one in five dealing with a mental health issue at some point, services need to be available and easy to access. Having a child with a mental illness is difficult enough, without it being heightened by the stress of finding appropriate care close to home. “If it was a child who had a physical disease, it would be treated immediately, because it would be unacceptable in society to allow someone to suffer,” Samantha says. “Mental health is just as important.”