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How navigation support services can play a key role in the search for youth mental health and addiction resources

September 14, 2020


Nearly one-third of Ontario families are caring for a youth under 30 years old with a mental health and/or addictions concern, which mental health experts expect will rise during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a first ever study, researchers at the Family Navigation Project at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre investigated the service needs of Ontario caregivers of youth with mental health and or addiction/substance use concerns. The study was published in BMC Psychiatry.

Families identified preferred services in finding appropriate care which included family navigators (78%), having a case manager (73%) followed by the primary care provider at 70%.

“Early intervention and connection to services can help improve treatment and outcomes” says Dr. Anthony Levitt, lead author of the study and medical director of the Family Navigation Project. “For caregivers, navigation services can assist not just in helping families access individualized care, but it helps ease the burden on families as they search for services, and navigation experts can help provide optimal navigation services for patients and families to find resources appropriate and personalized for their individual circumstances.”

In Ontario, 467,000 to 654,000 children and youth experience at least one mental health and/or addictions concern any given time, however less than one third receive specialized treatment. Researchers have found that despite numerous resources being available within the mental health and addictions system, youth and families face difficulties accessing care, with the majority of caregivers noting wait times exceeding six months and/or dissatisfaction with past services. The study also identifies barriers to service that include ineffective transitions between types and levels of care, unclear mechanisms for accessing care and stigma.

“The majority of caregivers, whether they were currently accessing services for their youth or were seeking services for their youth, identified system navigation support as something they would find helpful or very helpful in connecting to needed care,” says Dr. Levitt. “Many families also preferred having a professional service coordinator stay involved with their case as long as needed to help guide their families through the complex mental health system in order to be connected with the services that best serve their needs.”

It’s estimated mental health and addiction issues affect one in five Ontarians with approximately 70% of these individuals tracing difficulties back to childhood.

The study surveyed 851 Ontario residents, with 259 identifying themselves as caregivers of at least one youth with mental health and/or addictions issues. The mean age of young people was 16 years old. In the study, the most frequently reported diagnoses were depression (30%), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (28%) and generalized anxiety disorder (21%).

“Navigation and case management are noted as helping families feel supported in finding and accessing services,” Roula Markoulakis, the study’s first author and Jeff Capel Research Fellow at the Family Navigation Project. “These specialized supports with knowledge and expertise in youth mental health and addictions may act as a valuable complement in assisting families with coordinating care in the mental health and addictions system.”

Read the study in BMC Psychiatry »

Learn more about the Family Navigation Project »