Youth Wellness Centre helping kids on a shoestring

The Centre, run by the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Community Services, needs to raise $100,000.

Dr. Matthew Chow.

Dr. Matthew Chow.

They keep showing up, kids with mild or moderate mental health issues who need just a bit of professional help, to keep them find the right track in life.

In the seven months, the Youth Wellness Centre has been operating on a shoe-string budget, 150 kids have been seen by Dr. Matt Chow, who works there one day a week.

That compares well to the 200 kids who will be seen in an entire year by a full-time psychiatrist at B.C. Children’s Hospital, Vickie Kipps told Maple Ridge council, Jan. 17.

“So Dr. Chow coming out to our community … is really setting that bar of excellence in changing practice … in terms of being responsive in a different way.”

Kipps is executive-director of Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Community Services, which runs the centre.

Dr. Melody Prim Smith, a Pitt Meadows physician, told council there’s an “overwhelming need” for youth mental services.

“It’s not a monthly thing, it’s a daily thing, kids coming in, struggling with these disorders.”

The Youth Wellness Centre, located in the Greg Moore Youth Centre, focuses on kids with mild or moderate mental health needs, three-quarters of which are helped without the use of medication.

Only five per cent are referred to hospital.

Without the centre, kids have no place to go because their illness isn’t severe enough.

“Yet we know if we treat these kids at a young age, we’re going to really improve their outcome,” Prem-Smith said.

About 70 per cent of all mental health disorders start between the ages of eight and 25 years old, she added.

However, youth mental health receives only 10 per cent of the funding.

“Yet we know that’s where a huge burden, most of the onset of the illness lies.”

If people reach adulthood untreated, they rely on acute care, emergency room visits and hospitalization, council heard.

But if kids get the help they need soon enough, “we can really make a lasting change. And we can really change the long-term outcome for these kids,” said Prem-Smith.

“Because they receive access to those services much sooner than they would have done if the Youth Wellness Centre wasn’t here.”

The centre functions by offering one-stop, low-barrier help for youth by providing a range of youth health services. The psychiatrist works with a youth advocate who makes connections with kids or serves as an intermediary to help them see the psychiatrist, if needed.

Kids can be connected to a range of services, such as private counselling, the school district, Family Education and Support Centre, Alouette Addictions Services and therapeutic riding.

“Usually in the health-care system, anytime you try to innovate like this, it turns into a bureaucratic quagmire, where there are a lot of competing interests, a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of red tape, and things slow right down and become really expensive,” Chow said previously.

“This is a lightweight model that is community driven, grassroots driven, and it’s really responsive.”

There’s now also a drop-in session at the Youth Wellness Centre every Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., located in the Greg Moore Youth Centre.

“That is essentially self-referral. You can come as a youth, as a family member, and come and get help right away,” said Kipps.

“So people are hearing about us. We know we’re addressing a critical need in our community.”

On average, the centre sees 17 new patients a month, with the psychiatrist being there only one day a week. That’s usually the workload of a full-time psychiatrist.

Average wait time to see the psychiatrist is six weeks compared to a usual period of six months.

The centre is now moving towards becoming a complete pilot program, but needs to raise another $100,000 and wants to bring on a second psychiatrist and have the child advocate there full-time.

The program started last year, using about $46,000 in donations, with the city kicking in $10,000.

Council heaped praised on the centre.

Mayor Nicole Read said, with an election this spring, there could be provincial funding.

People don’t realize the impact of helping kids at the early stages of a potential health crisis, said Coun. Kirsten Duncan.

Maple Ridge was the only city that saw a decrease in drug overdose deaths (27 in 2016 compared to 29 in 2015) in B.C. in 2016, she pointed out.

Coun. Bob Masse said the Youth Wellness Centre is ground-breaking and is catching the attention of provincial officials.

“This a model that’s being created,” he said, hoping that will result in funding.

“Anxiety, it sounds sort of trivial, but it’s debilitating and emotionally paralyzing for kids and can lead to severe depression and suicide,” Masse said.

“So this is really saving kids’ lives, I think. It’s just essential work.”