According to Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, more than 75 per cent of adult mental illness surfaces before the age of 25.
‘What’s up,’ an East Metro Youth Services (EMYS) program established in 2011, is a no-cost, no-wait walk-in mental health counselling service.
Previously geared towards children, youth and their families, it has now expanded its services to young adults from 19 to 24. No health card or appointment is required, and services are offered in many languages including Tamil, Dari/Farsi and Hindi.
David O’Brien, lead agency network manager for the program, said the age expansion was necessary to address stressors in ages 18 to 25.
“Our economy has changed, people are staying in school longer, it’s more challenging to find a job,” he said. “So [there are] all these pressures on young people, plus if you have a mental health issue it can exacerbate the situation.”
Most mental health services in Toronto for youth stop at age 18. ‘What’s up’, O’Brien said, tackles that missing service gap. There are other barriers, like language, that EMYS tackles.
“We have a lot of first generation immigrants here, so often the children and youth can speak English but the parents don’t speak it,” he said. “So it can be very isolating, especially when you’re dealing with a young person with a mental health issue.”
O’Brien said the service being free is thanks to Federal funding, as well as $200,000 from RBC fundraising.
“It’s a big issue for people in the City of Toronto to pay for counseling,” he said. “We often serve children and families living in marginalized neighbourhoods, so neighbourhoods that have poverty or violence, it’s difficult to ask someone to pay for a counseling service.
O’Brien said the service is currently in negotiations with the Hospital for Sick Children to video conference psychiatrists at every walk-in clinic.
Kirsten Cohen began her career at ‘What’s up’ as a social work student at the University of Toronto. When the program expanded from a one-day walk-in to a five-day walk-in, Cohen was brought back as an employee.
Certain mental health struggles, Cohen said, come up in adolescence but they don’t disappear.
“The problems don’t go away,” she said. “The fact that we’re expanding up to (age) 24, some people are in college or post-secondary education or just finished high school, there’s so much going on.”
Of the funding coming from the government and RBC fundraising, Cohen said it’s a step in the right direction to acknowledging that mental health services are necessary.
“There’s so much focus on physical health and prevention, but to have a service like this, it’s saying we understand that not only do people need access to mental health services, but they need easy access and they need access to it right away,” she said.
Maja Jocson, Ignite vice-president of Student Affairs, is a fourth-year kinesiology student at University of Guelph-Humber. As a former representative of her program, she found her passion helping students organize social events, as well as with academic concerns.
Like most students, Jocson sometimes struggles as well.
“There are days when I just don’t want to get up. [Sometimes] you just don’t want to do anything, especially over the winter time [when it’s] so gloomy,” she said. “I’m a very extroverted person, I’m not used to that.”
Jocson works with 14 program representatives now, and has also been a part of the Mental Health Committee. Right now, she’s working on determining whether a second reading week would be beneficial for student mental health.
“I think obviously having a mental break, just to chill and relax and not worry about school, will help students,” she said, but added students must also consider repercussions like extended class time and less time to study time could add to students’ anxieties.
On campus, Jocson said, there’s a service for students called the Student Lifeline. It’s a number students can call when they’re in distress and can’t physically go to a counsellor.
“Sometimes you just can’t go out, sometimes you can’t even get up,” she said. “You can call this Lifeline 24/7, all the days of the year.”
In addition to a no-cost mental health clinic like ‘What’s up,’ Jocson said Toronto needs other avenues students can go through to receive support.