The province is committing up to $7.3 million over three years toward improving youth mental health.
The funding will be invested into youth mental-health hubs in strategic locations around Alberta to support rural and Indigenous youth. Of those funds, $3 million is allocated to improve existing hubs this year, while the rest will be used to improve other existing hubs, build new ones and plan for more.
“These hubs are a one-stop shop where youth enter one door and access a wide range of services,” Mike Ellis, associate minister of mental health and addictions, said Tuesday during a news conference at the Police Point Park Nature Centre in Medicine Hat.
“The goal is to support the mental health and overall wellness of youth. An emphasis will be placed on prevention, as well as creating better access to specialized services. We want you to get help before they’re in crisis.”
The hubs offer a range of services for children and youth, including mental-health and addiction services, primary health care, social services, housing and various school-based supports. They are operated in partnership between community organizations, Alberta Health Services, primary care networks and a number of other community partners.
The youth mental-health hubs were part of a pilot project that launched in 2017, with the mission of making services more accessible for youth outside of larger urban centres.
Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz said the supports are vital for young people’s well-being as the province recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
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“We know growing and transitioning into adulthood is not easy at the best of times, and especially at times like this, as we come out of a very difficult year and a half,” Schulz said.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among youth in Canada, said Tracie Mutschler, the executive director of McMan Youth, Family and Community Services Association. And 70 per cent of mental-health challenges start in childhood and adolescence.
“If you’re an Indigenous youth, you’re five to six times more likely to die by suicide than non-Indigenous youth,” said Mutschler.
Accessibility and challenging navigation are the most cited concerns by those seeking help through McMan, she said. The mental-health hubs are designed to address those barriers and connect youth to supports.
“Youth hubs get to the root of this issue by encouraging cross-sector supports to create a responsive, co-ordinated, collaborative and holistic service net that meets the youth’s unique needs at the right time,” Mutschler said.
Currently, there are several youth hubs in different stages of development in Medicine Hat, Fort Saskatchewan, Drayton Valley, Fort McMurray, the Tri-region area of Parkland County, Stony Plain and Spruce Grove, Grande Prairie, Enoch Cree Nation, and Maskwacis and Samson Cree Nation. The hub in Medicine Hat will be the first to be expanded.
Another four hubs are being planned and implemented already, Ellis said.