December 2, 2023

A newly opened private mental health clinic for youth in Winnipeg is hoping to help families sooner amid a public system plagued by long wait times — although one expert says it won’t solve all the problems at hand.

For now, Cocoon Clinic is mainly a one-woman show. But executive director Shea Silva, a psychiatric nurse by trade, wants to see the two-week-old project expand. She aspires to alleviate the day-to-day mental health struggles of those waiting for more specialized care, she said.

So far, Silva says the clinic is being well received.

“What we’re hearing from parents is just relief, a huge relief to be able to get in to see somebody quickly,” Silva said.

Meanwhile, wait times range from one month to more than a year at the publicly-funded Manitoba Adolescent Treatment Centre, a Shared Health spokesperson said.

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“Wait times for treatment will depend on acuity levels as well as what specific supports a patient needs,” they said. “Generally, wait times for child and youth mental health services have increased.”

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Silva says she hopes the clinic can step in sooner for those aged 12 to 25 and work alongside professionals in the public system, including family doctors, school counsellors and therapists, among others — but with a different approach.

It’s a model that would include beginning with a mental health needs assessment with a psychiatric nurse, something Silva says usually doesn’t happen until patients are in crisis.

“We’re wanting to really bring that earlier in the journey to get a good sense of things so that they don’t end up in that place,” Silva told Global News on Saturday.

“Sometimes we’re seeing that they’ve been struggling for a really long time and we’re able to provide some immediate strategies and interventions that can make things better today.”

Silva aims to meet with clients during what she says can be a distressing waiting period for an appointment with a psychiatrist or psychologist, to explore things like medication and therapy options.

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The Manitoba Pediatric Society (MPS) welcomes Cocoon Clinic’s July opening but adds more large-scale solutions are necessary, as the need for youth mental health services is on the rise.

“This is a major problem, and it’s been a problem for years, but it has become a lot worse, especially with the pandemic, as we’ve been seeing a lot more anxiety, depression (and) eating disorders,” MPS’s president, Dr. Marni Hanna, said.

The community pediatrician says she refers multiple patients to MTC’s Centralized Intake Service each day.

“There’s definitely been an increase in demand in the last two or three years,” Hanna said.

However, access to services in Manitoba is “inadequate” and isn’t keeping up, she continued, pointing to the province’s lower-than-average psychologist per capita ratio — with mental health resources only worsening outside Winnipeg into rural Manitoba, Hanna said.

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Shared Health is hiring five psychologists to help reduce wait times, two of whom are earmarked for children and teens, thanks to provincial funding announced in June, a Shared Health spokesperson said in an emailed statement on Saturday.

“That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Hanna countered. “We need a lot more than that.”

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“Children are where it’s at for helping with mental health problems, because if you can give them good coping strategies when they’re younger, then they turn into better functioning adults that have less need for extra resources.”

Hanna adds Cocoon Clinic’s rate of $150 an hour won’t be affordable for many families, especially those requiring continuous care.

She wants to see the province improve coverage for mental health services, something Silva hopes could be on the table at the clinic.

“We absolutely recognize that mental health issues impact marginalized communities at a greater rate, and that includes people of lower socio-economic status who may not be able to afford our fee, and so it is absolutely our goal to be as available as possible,” Silva said.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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