As many as 1.2 million young people in Canada are struggling with mental health issues, but only one in five will get specialized treatment they need. Thanks to generous support from RBC Race for the Kids Toronto, the Family Navigation Project has helped over 2,100 families in the GTA get the help they needed.
About the Family Navigation Project at Sunnybrook
The Family Navigation Project at Sunnybrook is a non-profit program designed to provide expert navigation of the mental health and addictions service system for youth aged 13-26 with serious mental health and/or addictions problems.
Its promise to families is to engage with them to help them navigate the health care and related services system, connect to appropriate and credible assessment and treatment resources, receive assistance in as timely a way as possible and negotiate challenging situations that may arise, all the while knowing that help and support is available for them every step of the way.
Its promise to the health care system is to help build relationships with treatment providers, centres and programs (both public and private) that will facilitate connections for families and youth. In launching this innovative model of care, we hope to encourage positive change within the system.
Your Support Helps Young People Like Clarissa
“I felt like throwing myself off the bridge on the way to school.”
It was a daughter’s cry for help. Roanne and her husband had been trying for months to get help for their daughter, Clarissa, age 14. Clarissa’s mental health issues included restricting her food intake, isolating herself from friends, and often feeling sad. With thoughts of suicide entering the picture, her mother Roanne was beside herself with worry.
A referral to an eating disorders clinic gave Roanne little comfort: The wait time was about 12 months. In desperation, Roanne started frantically calling services she’d heard about from friends or found on the Internet, only to be told Clarissa wasn’t a good match: she was too young; she was out of the catchment area, or her illness was too complex.
Not knowing where to turn, Roanne called the Family Navigation Project (FNP).
Naomi Algate, one of the Project’s navigators, remembers Roanne’s call about Clarissa. (While these aren’t real names, the case is real.) “She was absolutely overwhelmed. She said, ‘I feel like the door keeps shutting. I’m worried we’re going to lose her’.”
It is not extraordinary, says Algate, to get calls from parents concerned for their child’s life. One recent call came from a parent whose teen had attempted suicide the night before. Once the call comes, the navigator listens carefully to the story, to understand the specific and unique needs of the teenager and the family. Navigators ask about relationships with friends and family, school attendance, diagnoses and treatments that have been tried. Then they’ll ask the parents, ‘How do you feel?’ “That’s when we usually get lots of tears,” says Algate. “They don’t realize the burden they have been carrying until they start to tell us. They say, ‘I can’t believe you’re spending all this time listening to me. I haven’t felt this kind of support anywhere else’.”
Navigators have a background in addictions and mental health and a wide breadth of knowledge about what resources exist in the community, having visited many of the services personally. “The fact that we have been to see these clinics and specialists is very comforting for people,” says Algate. “It alleviates their fear when we tell them what to expect.”
For Clarissa, Algate found an eating disorders clinic with a much shorter wait time six weeks and a social worker for her to see weekly. Clarissa was able to stay in school and continue living at home.
Algate also arranged for Roanne and her husband to attend a special parent support group, while their daughter went through the treatment program. Clarissa’s situation improved. “She’s doing better; she’s in a program that’s just right for her, that is safe and that she didn’t have to wait a year for,” says Algate. “The family is very grateful for the guidance and support they received.”
"The Family Navigation Project helps families who have a young person suffering from a mental health issue or addiction," says Dr. Anthony Levitt, medical director of the Family Navigation Project. "We find the help and find it now."