Updated: October 10, 2023
My family has been trying to find a definitive diagnosis and treatment for my child for the past two years. As parents with children who have a mental health illness will know, finding adequate treatment is virtually impossible.
After two years of constant advocating, calling hotlines, speaking with the school, pediatrician, several child counsellors, referrals to psychiatrists (those have their own very special wait lists), we are only now getting access to some answers.
Ironically, only after a day surgery appointment were red flags noted by the doctor which expedited the process. If it wasn’t for the doctor that was working on a completely different issue, we would still be on wait lists that are now 24 months long.
If you have a child with an undiagnosed mental health issue, you know this battle. If you speak with the nurses, doctors, social workers, and anyone in between – they know this battle. They know how excruciatingly difficult it is for families to get primary care or diagnosis, especially for children with complex cases.
As a parent what can you do?
My Tips for Getting Your Child Care
These suggestions are based on my experience. This list isn’t complete, and may not be appropriate in all cases.
Start with the school counsellor
School counsellors are an invaluable tool and ally! They can help navigate necessary modifications at school, check-in with the student during the school day, and be a soft landing spot.
School counsellors will have community contacts such as free counselling through AHS. There is some access to funding if you need additional care for your child.
If you don’t have a school counsellor, social workers are also an absolute gold mine of information.
School-hosted learning sessions
Schools, in partnership with AHS, often host learning sessions with a focus on mental health. These have become even more accessible since 2020 shut many of these in-person sessions down. Look for online resources presented by the school or by AHS.
Call the hotline
Alberta-wide mental health hotline from the AHS.
This number will offer you immediate advice, and be able to provide you with resources that might be available while you wait for the doctors appointments, diagnosis, or whatever you might need.
Work with your family doctor
Your family doctor will be able to prescribe medication and refer you to see a psychiatrist – but be warned, the wait list for child psychiatrists is LONG – even in an emergency situation.
Don’t give up
Be persistent, be loud, advocate, annoy people. Make sure you understand what is happening and why.
This has been one of the most frustrating parts of our journey. The resources are there for you, BUT, you will be doing this alone until you are able to get the care and or diagnosis and the wait times alone are horrendous.
This isn’t the fault of the doctors – it’s the sheer number of children that need help vs. the number of practitioners.
An added complication to the system and the process is the length of time it takes to treat mental illness – they’re not cured overnight which adds to the pressure on the system.
Ask for more help
Write to your MLA. Mental health IS health and it’s desperately underfunded.
Twenty percent of children and youths in Alberta “…suffer from a diagnosable psychiatric disorder” (source) and these children need access to diagnosis and treatment while they’re still children and their brains are still developing. Delaying it means their illness is untreated into adulthood.
Everything that happened starting in 2020 exasperated, created new, or made worse many mental health challenges such as anxiety, meaning an already strained system has been hit even harder.
It’s important to bring awareness, and ask for more – more facilities, more doctors, and better access to diagnostic testing.
Online Resources for Albertans
Looking for more tools? Here are some websites that may provide some help as you navigate these challenges.
- Mental Health Foundation resource list – founded by the Alberta Hospital Edmonton Foundation, the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) works across the province to enhance mental health and addictions recovery.
- Alberta Blue Cross’ Mental Health Support resource page – The not-for-profit health insurance company has their finger on health resources in the province through AHS and private plans. They have an extensive list of resources available.
- Canadian Mental Health Association – Branches are available across the province, and a number of resources are available on the website for a wide assortment of mental health issues.
- AHS Help in Tough Times resource page offers a wealth of links to support services.
- AHS Program and Services list additional links based on region. Click the tab for your location.
- 211 is a helpline and online database of Alberta’s community and social services.
- Canadian Red Cross – Alberta branch – Look into the Friendly Calls program for “… parents, caregivers and anyone who may benefit from increased access to regular emotional support, social interaction, enhanced coping skills and community connections to other existing support.”
- Mental Health First Aid Course – learn more about how to be a first responder during a mental health crisis
- Facebook groups – search on Facebook for groups based in Alberta, your local area, or general “parents of” for your specific situation. Other parents who have been there, done that are an amazing source of information!
Mental Health has become a hot topic to talk about, with a number of events focused on bringing awareness to the topic. These events are a great opportunity to share your story – if you’re comfortable.
- Bell Let’s Talk Day happens in late January every year.
- May is Mental Health Month. Wear a green ribbon to show colleagues, loved ones or simply those you walk past that you care about their mental health.
- The first week in May is Canadian Mental Health Week.
- October 10th is World Mental Health Day.
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Jeanie is a mother of 4 in Lethbridge, Alberta. She enjoys her job, hiking with the family, and avoiding making supper at all costs.