Where Can You Get Mental Health Help in Mississauga?

 

When it comes to illness and disease, there is still much we don't know about mental health and our steep and centuries-long learning curve has enveloped a common a problem in stigma and shame.

To be fair, we've made incredible strides in understanding, diagnosing and treating mental health disorders and dedicated advocacy groups have worked hard to diminish the negative associations that have, in the past, deterred suffering people from coming forward and seeking help.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), 20 per cent of Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime and approximately eight per cent of adults will experience serious depression at some point. Much like physical illness, mental illness can manifest in a variety of ways and produce a wide array of sometimes debilitating disorders. Anxiety disorders affect five per cent of the household population and suicide accounts for 24 per cent of all deaths among 15-24 year-olds and 16 per cent among 25-44 year-olds.

Since Oct 2 - 8 is Mental Illness Awareness Week in Canada (that's why the Absolute towers have been lit up in green), it's good to look at what mental health resources people can access in Mississauga (and Peel in general) and also examine some of the challenges the city is facing in terms of providing adequate services for a growing community.

"There are [mental health] supports in Peel, but specialized supports are not available and unfortunately there is a huge wait list," says Anita Stellanga, vice-president for community investment with the United Way of Peel.

"We know that there is shortage in terms of psychiatrists and there are long wait lists at the community level. Services for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder are limited. Case management has a huge waitlist, it's about a year or so now. When you're dealing with significant complexities, it's challenging to wait for a long time."

While it's important to note that Mississauga (and the overall region) is lacking some resources, it's equally as important to remember that the city is not barren in terms of support. Peel is a growing region and Mississauga alone boasts over 700,000 residents. The increasing population has presented challenges (albeit expected ones) not only on the mental illness front, but also in terms of poverty and financial need (and often, poverty and mental illness are connected).

As a city grows and fills with more and more people, it's only natural that mental health resources will be strained as demand grows.

Excess strain is also more likely because -- and this is a good thing -- people are more likely to come forward and admit they need help.

"I think we're overstretched in terms of long waitlists, especially for more intensive treatment programs," says Julia Margetiak, manager, system access, intake and health information, youth engagement & family engagement initiatives with the Mississauga-based Peel Children's Centre.

"Someone who is waiting for counseling will wait less time than someone waiting for a more intense program. There are challenges in meeting the needs in a timely manner because of the demand for service. There's also been a lot more awareness around mental health concerns and there's more attention paid to it on social media like the Bell Let's Talk campaign and that's increased the demand for service. People feel they can talk about it more now."

But while much has been done to combat the stigma associated with mental illness, some shame and embarrassment still plagues people who are reticent to ask for help. Mental illness, unlike physical illness, is still viewed by some as less dire and more easily controlled. It doesn't help that, in many cases, a direct cause (or even just one cause) can't be found. According to CMHA, mental illness is caused by "a complex interplay of genetic, biological, personality and environmental factors."

One factor that further stigmatizes mental illness is the association with family breakdown, erratic behaviour and poverty. While many people manage minor mental health issues with counselling (or, in some cases, just time), others are unable to cope and become vulnerable to domestic, legal and financial difficulties.

For United Way, combating mental illness is considered a crucial step in the fight against poverty.

"We're looking to focus on prevention and youths," says United Way's Stellanga. "Preventing the cycle of poverty early on is crucial and complimenting that is ensuring that people have access to programs and supports and in many neighbourhoods, there are gaps. [We need to] make sure kids have access to mental health programs. We start to see issues with self-esteem and mental health early on."

It is true that children are vulnerable to self-esteem issues that could later impact their mental health and subsequently make their adult lives more challenging.

Margetiak, whose organization works with children and young adults and their families, says a lot of young people deal with a host of issues that negatively impact their mental well-being.

"There are a wide variety of reasons [children and families come to us], but stress and concerns around parent and child relationships and conflict in the home [are some]. We see a lot of children experiencing anxiety or depression, and these can affect children at school. Some children deal with bullying as well."

While it's not unusual for children, teens and adults to suffer from mental distress, it is worrying that, in Mississauga (and Peel in general), mental health resources are stressed and therefore not immediately accessible to everyone in need.

Fortunately, that appears to be changing because all levels of government are paying attention to the need for more mental health resources -- especially in growing communities that need facilities to keep pace with population growth.

The Peel Children's Centre that Margetiak represents is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Child and Youth Services (it also generates income through other fundraising efforts) and it has been able to expand to include mental health walk-in clinics in recent years.

"I think the government has seen the need to make changes in terms of providing families with more upfront access services," Margetiak says. "The number of children and youth residing in each region will be looked at and the province will look at the funding and reexamine the need."

In the meantime, there are resources available if you or a loved one is in need.

If you are a youth or you're worried about a young person, you can visit a Tangerine Walk-In Counselling clinic. The relatively new service is completely free for everyone in Peel and operates four locations (three of which are in Mississauga). If you're in need of professional counselling to help resolve or address a personal or family issue, this service will probably be helpful.

The Peel Children's Centre also works in conjunction with five other organizations on a central intake system that can field requests and connect families with the appropriate service. The partners include Associated Youth Services of Peel, Nexus Youth Services, Rapport Youth and Family Services, Trillium Health Partners and the William Osler Health System. You can learn more about all of them here.

If your situation is dire, you can access immediate emergency services as well. 

"If someone has a more immediate concern, options are to call a crisis line or attend a Tangerine walk-in clinic. If there's imminent risk (of suicide), a local emergency department is the other option."

CMHA also offers an incredibly extensive list of local resources here. Beyond mental health help, this page offers contact info for shelters, rape crisis centres, addiction treatment services and more. Residents who would prefer to seek help from organizations within their own communities might be happy to know that there are Catholic, Punjabi, Muslim, South Asian and LGBT services available as well.

So while there are a lot of resources, the challenge is ensuring treatment in Mississauga lasts beyond the crisis stage.

"The challenge is what happens once a person comes out of a hospital and what does that support plan look like," says Stellanga. "There's a gap between the services and family not knowing how to support the individual experiencing a challenge. Sometimes people have to travel to Toronto [for treatment], and we've been hearing about challenges around the costs of transportation. Those costs can be prohibitive and not sustainable over the long run."

Another challenge is actually informing people that there are services out there. The list provided by CMHA, for example, might be as overwhelming as it is helpful. Where do people in need figure out where to start?

"There are resources available, but the challenge for families is getting confused about where to start. Whose door do you knock on? Bringing more awareness of what's available is part of the challenge," says Margetiak. "We're trying to collaborate with other groups to make an [even more] centralized intake model. We've had [our current] central intake model since 2000, but it's been undergoing revisions to see how we can make it easier for families. For example, if people have to switch providers, how can we do this more seamlessly? We've been working on this with our community partners."

So, does Mississauga need more brick and mortar mental health facilities, or does it just need to expand on what it does have?

"I don't know that we need more actual places," says Margetiak. "We may need to look at where the services are operated. Families that live in Caledon find it hard to travel to Mississauga for services, for example. We may also look at technology in terms of how we connect with families and find out if services can be used online. We have to look at whether we have the right amount of resources in the services that exist and see if there's a way to build upon those resources so we have more capacity to fulfill people's needs. We could use more staff, potentially."

That said, Margetiak is optimistic that Mississauga (and Peel in general) is on the right track.

"I believe it will get better and we're all excited about the transformation that's happening right now."

For more information about local resources, click here.

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