Pitch for a youth wellness centre in Maple Ridge

A report from 15 years ago stated the same needs: Cheryl Ashlie.

Cheryl Ashlie.

Cheryl Ashlie.

Maple Ridge council is taking a cautious approach to a request for $83,000 to help start a youth wellness centre.

Local doctors, community services and an action team – composed of 50 volunteers, in all – made the request in a letter at council’s workshop Monday.

The money is needed to complete the fundraising of $198,000 needed to operate the centre for a year. If it opens, envisaged to be located in the Greg Moore Youth Centre, in space also donated by the city, kids as young as eight will have one-stop help with mental health and addiction needs.

It’s hoped that, after a year, it will become apparent that there’s a enough demand from kids struggling with anxiety and depression and self-harm and drug use that the province will step in and fund it on a yearly basis.

“We’re not going to give up on this,” said Cheryl Ashlie, with the local action team, part of the province-wide Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Collaborative.

“We’re going to get it going. It’s been long overdue.”

A report from 15 years ago stated the same needs, she pointed out.

The goal is to get the Ridge Meadows Youth Wellness Centre open by May 1, council heard.

“We know that depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicide and substance abuse rates are on the rise,” says a letter to council from community services and the Ridge Meadows Division of Family Practice.

Without help, “mental health and substance use challenges will get worse.”

The centre would provide access to a child psychiatrist one day a week. Other services would be a clinical counsellor with a speciality in treating addictions, and a youth advocate to help connect kids to a range of services. The professionals would staff the centre on a rotating basis as part of their regular work schedule, so costs would be minimized.

Dr. Biju Mathew, a psychiatrist on the local action team, said the wellness centre would give kids access to a child psychiatrist.

“They are very few and far between. We have 25,000 to 30,000 kids in the community and we have no child psychiatrist.”

Children with emotional problems are waiting a year to see someone, he added.

“We need to start somewhere.”

Council liked the idea, but members were wary of using local tax dollars to pay for a provincial service, such as mental health.

“We are sorely underfunded in this community and it’s becoming a significant problem that I think both of our MLAs have to address,” said Mayor Nicole Read.

“It’s almost like a broken record when it comes to Fraser Health, and I think it’s unacceptable.”

The local action team had requested money last year from Fraser Health for the project, but was refused.

Read mentioned the $5.5 million B.C. Housing had offered to open a supportive housing project and suggested that Maple Ridge propose a larger youth mental health clinic, funded by the provincial government.

Coun. Craig Speirs supported giving the money on a one-time basis, but “it’s beyond our ability” to fund it on an ongoing basis.

“I want to make sure we have a multi-year approach to it.”

Coun. Bob Masse also supported the idea, although added, “I do believe it’s downloading.”

“This is great work that’s been done,” said Coun. Corisa Bell, although she also recognized it was downloading of health services to a city.

Council supported a motion to get staff make a recommendation on the request for the $83,000.

A downsized version of the centre could be opened with the city kicking in $35,000.

Ashlie said originally, when the Greg Moore Youth Centre opened in 2001, youth health services were available, but were taken away because they weren’t being used.

The youth centre was always designed with this in mind, she added.

Ashlie said several studies show there’s a need for youth mental health services in Maple Ridge. The centre would serve children as young eight, when many identify as starting to have problems.

The centre would be managed by Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Community Services. The Ridge Meadows Division of Family Practice is a partner in the project.