The Montreal Children’s Hospital is opening a new centre Monday, to offer specialized care to teenagers who’ve contemplated or attempted suicide.
The clinic, Le SPOT Montreal, will help teens 12 to 18 years old who are in suicidal crisis, offering them and their families up to 12 weeks of intensive individualized therapy.
“These are teenagers who would have come to our emergency department, [who] perhaps don’t need to be admitted, but do need someone to quickly give them some therapeutic services,” said Maia Aziz, head of Allied Health Services for the Montreal Children’s Hospital.
The specialized facility, which will be one of the largest of its kind in Canada, will be able to treat 500 patients in the first year, and 1000 patients a year after that.
Staffed with 10 full-time clinicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers and occupational therapists, the clinic will aim to see patients within 72 hours of them being referred by emergency room physicians.
The idea, Aziz said, is to provide teens with the help they need “in the moment that they are in crisis and not have them wait in distress along with their families.”
In addition to individual therapy, the clinic will also provide family and group therapy, as well as help with life skills, such as conflict resolution, emotional regulation, and healthy use of social media. Because it’s an outpatient service, teens will also be able to continue going to school while pursuing the therapy program.
With the help of a psycho educator, teens will also have access to “less traditional” therapeutic activities, such as nature walks and sports, said Dr.Martin Gignac, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.
Consistency is key
At the end of 12 weeks, the clinic will ensure continuity for patients by connecting them with community mental health services. Outside of this program, the current average wait time for those services is six months.
That transition and stability is key, according to Simone Aslan, a 20-year-old arts student who was admitted to the Montreal Children’s Hospital when they were 15.
“A huge part of why I’m here in the way that I am is that I had access, and continue to have access, to consistent therapy and consistent psychiatric care,” Aslan said. “That is not something that everyone has access to.”
Aslan said the process of getting a family doctor and a referral to a psychologist can be an added barrier, on top of the difficulty teens face in simply expressing that they need help.
“My parents, they knew that I wasn’t doing great, but I remember it was very daunting to tell a loved one that,” they said.
Aslan said finally being taken in at the hospital was a turning point.
“[It was] the first time I felt like I was allowed to… feel the way that I was feeling. I was in a space that provided me some space and some time to reflect,” they said.
While Aslan still struggles with mental health issues, they say they have learned tools to help them manage.
Longer wait times during pandemic
According to a report by the Quebec’s public health research institute (INSPQ), the number of teens who were treated in emergency rooms following a suicide attempt increased 23 per cent between 2020 and 2021.
“The need is huge. We’ve seen numbers skyrocketing,” said Aziz.
Montreal Children’s Hospital emergency department alone saw a 35 per cent increase in the number of teens seeking help for psychosocial and psychological issues.
Dr. Gignac said that 20 per cent of those patients returned to the hospital within a month, because of the long wait times for community mental health resources.
“We realized that the resources that we have are not sufficient to respond to the needs of the teenagers that come in distress and in crisis in the emergency room,” he said.
He said some patients even end up being admitted under other medical services, instead of the hospital’s psychiatric services, because of a lack of beds.
Aslan said this was the case even five years ago, when they were initially admitted to the maternity ward, because there was no room in psychiatry.
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While Gignac said demand for youth mental health services has been growing steadily for the past two decades, the pandemic was a “precipitant.”
Gignac said that vulnerable teens who were struggling with mental health issues may have been coping with help from extra-curricular activities, such as arts and sports, but lost access to them during the pandemic.
“This… was a major stress on them, above the fact that just going through the pandemic is very stressful,” he said.
The Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation raised $12 million over a period of six months, to cover the clinic’s construction costs, as well as operating costs for the next 10 years.
If you are having a hard time coping, here are some resources. If you are in crisis or know someone who is, here is where to get help:
Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (Phone) | 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only) crisisservicescanada.ca
In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (Phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre