SickKids is one of the largest providers of child and youth mental health care in Canada. Our Mental Health Care Continuum extends from the hospital to the community and supports up to 80,000 mental health visits and contacts with patients and families per year. The services SickKids provides have never been in such high demand.
Over the last decade, we have seen a 61% increase in child and youth emergency department visits and a 60% increase in hospitalizations for mental health disorders across Canada. The number of parents who feel that their child has a mental health challenge has increased three-fold. The COVID-19 pandemic has added fuel to the fire and exposed existing fault lines in our mental health system. Since 2020, there has been a 99% increase in patients presenting to SickKids Urgent Care Clinic (UCC), which solely manages mental health crises. Last year, SickKids also saw a 23% increase in the number of children and youth requiring inpatient admission in comparison to the previous year. This year the number of patients requiring admission has already increased by an additional 22%.
Rates of child and youth anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and eating disorders have all risen since the beginning of the pandemic. And the ages children are presenting are increasingly younger. SickKids saw a 91% increase in 10- to 12-year-olds presenting with suicidal thoughts and deliberate self-harm or depression and an 86% increase in presentation in 13- to 15-year-olds.
Never before have the mental health needs of children and youth been more important. To keep up with growing demand and ensure patients receive the best possible care we need to invest in our facilities.
Currently, we only have 12 dedicated mental health beds for the many more who need inpatient care. For suicidal patients who come to our emergency department, there’s no other option than to sit in our crowded waiting room – in severe emotional distress – until an appropriate bed or facility is found. In the new SickKids, our Slaight Family Integrated Mental Health Unit will anchor our entire Mental Health Care Continuum. We’ll increase the number of inpatient beds from 12 to 22, allowing us to provide holistic care to mental health patients with the most severe disorders in the province, including those who are transferred from our ICU following suicide attempts or near organ failure due to the severity of their eating disorders.
Offering proactive, cohesive mental health care in a healing environment will build the foundation from which children can go on to lead fuller, happier lives.