Mental health is under siege. How do we protect our children’s well-being? - COPE

Mental health is under siege. How do we protect our children’s well-being?

Mental health is under siege. How do we protect our children’s well-being?

With rates of depression and suicide on the increase, it’s more important than ever to recognize this coming Wednesday – Oct. 10 is Mental Health Day and the World Health Organization’s theme is Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World.

“There is definitely a mental health crisis across the country and most definitely with children,” says Dr. Shawn Kao, pediatrician and pediatric chair of the Ontario Medical Association.

According to Kao, children presenting to emergency departments rose 67%, specifically for mental health issues. All other pediatric problems/issues/diagnosis presenting to the emergency departments has decreased over the last same 10-year time period.

And wait times to see specialists can range from three months to over a year – even for so called crisis situations, he adds. Some families are waiting years to get access to specialized healthcare providers and resources. Actually, according to, 70% of children and young people who experience a mental health problem have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.

It’s estimated that mental health problems in young people are up by a shocking 70% since the 70s. School, social media, body image, bullying – the list is long and punishing, causing an ever increasing number of children to develop mental illness.

“Yet mental illness has been for the most part in our society recognized as an adult set of conditions leaving children with few resources to diagnose or treat them with their unique set of needs,” says Chris Trevors, director of Genetic Solutions at Dynacare which offers testing to help clinicians find the right drug-therapies based on genes.

Meanwhile, the Mental Health Commission of Canada statistics show that by age 40 nearly 50% of us will have or have had a mental illness. People of all ages are mentally battered. “We are living in a time where many of our environmental factors are pushing us to the breaking point, causing so much stress in our lives that the rates of mental illness are on the rise,” says Dr. Prakash Masand, a psychiatrist and founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence.

Often primary care doctors are treating mental illness when it should be addressed by a mental health professional. “If you look at bipolar disorder, for example, most patients are misdiagnosed initially. It can take up to 10 years to get a correct diagnosis because we are lacking specialists to treat these patients.”

We need better mental health programs, more government funding and more education and understanding by everyone. “Just as people would seek treatment for a heart condition or kidney disease, they should also seek treatment for mental health conditions,” says Masand. “There’s no reason to suffer. Get help and get your life back on track.”

Mental health affects us all. “Medications and technologies like pharmacogenomic testing can help people suffering with mental illness, but we also need to all be advocates for improved mental health care and be compassionate for those around us,” adds Trevors.


Half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, reports the World Health Organization, and it often goes undetected and untreated.

Will they just grow out of it? What about treating kids with an anti-depressant? “It is very normal for parents to worry about side effects and potential effect on their child,” says Dr. Shawn Kao. “Bottom line is that when clinicians stopped using anti-depressants after the warning came out years ago, actual children’s suicides increased rather than decreased. Current medical literature/evidence definitively supports the use of appropriate medication in the right clinical situation.”

Which leads to genetic testing he started using in his clinical practice since the middle of August. “Up until recently, the approach with medications has been trial and error… and resulted in trying three, four or five different medications before we find the so called right medication for that child.”

The Genecept Assay test from Dynacare narrows down drug options based on the patient’s genetic profile from a sample of saliva, decreasing the chances of harmful side effects. “It’s taken the guessing out of my decision making and the potential benefits are measurable.”

One 17 year old girl came to him with multiple complex health issues and had been on five different medication in the past two years. She had run away from home, been admitted to the hospital three times in two years, and had seen numerous therapists. “Her genetic results came back showing that the five medications she was on are listed under the ‘may cause adverse effects category,’ use with caution!

“The five meds prescribed are the five most common prescribed for her diagnosis so the choices were right but her body didn’t metabolize it appropriately,” says Kao. He put her on choice number six and “I have finally seen her smile, first time in two years, and she tells me she is finally feeling better. Wish I had this test two years ago,” he says.

That would have saved the patient and family a lot of pain and suffering, and the healthcare system a lot of money. “By my rough calculations my young patient alone would have utilized approximately $75,000 of health care dollars!” He wants to see genetic testing for mental health covered, some of or all of it, by the government so it’s accessible to everyone.


Most common mental health problems that affect children and young people:

* Depression

* Self-harm

* Generalized anxiety disorder

* Post-traumatic stress disorder


* Eating disorders

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