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Youth: here’s how to find mental health help in Toronto

Dr. John Teshima
Written by Dr. John Teshima

Finding mental health help for youth and their families should be simple, but it can actually be complicated and confusing. Which professional will be most helpful? Which program will provide the appropriate services? Sometimes there seem to be too many options and you may not know where to start. To make things more challenging, you may be directed from door to door to door, making it feel like no one wants to let you in.

To help youth and their families better navigate the mental health system, I’ve put together five basic tips for finding mental help in Toronto:

If the situation is urgent, go to the nearest emergency department.

Each youth and family’s definition of “urgent” may differ. It could be that the youth is feeling suicidal. It could be that the youth hasn’t eaten for days and keeps fainting. Whatever the case, if you think waiting a few weeks could lead to a dire outcome, going to the emergency department can start the process of getting the problem addressed. It might also lead to immediate intervention, referral to an appropriate service, or at least information about what services should be sought out.

If the youth wants to talk to someone this week, go to a What’s Up Walk-In.

There are six What’s Up Walk-In locations around Toronto, open five days a week. No referral is needed and the sessions are free. At these clinics, a professional counselor will meet with the youth, and further intervention will be planned according to his or her needs.

To see a psychiatrist, a youth must be referred by their pediatrician or family doctor.

A psychiatrist is a mental health professional who is also a medical doctor. They can assess a youth comprehensively and recommend treatments. Some, but not all, will provide follow-up. They can prescribe medications for mental health disorders (as can pediatricians and family doctors). Some can also provide psychotherapy. Typical wait times can be several months to see a psychiatrist.

If you are seeking services from a hospital or Child Mental Health Centre (CMHC), start with the one closest to where you live.

A local hospital/CMHC is most likely to be able to offer you services and will also know more about other local resources. If you live far away from the hospital/CMHC you seek help from, you may not qualify for their services. They also may not know much about the resources in your community. Note that most CMHCs and child psychiatry services only see youth before their 18th birthday. Above that age, a youth usually only has access to adult mental health services.

If you are finding it hard to figure out where to get help, contact the Family Navigation Project.

The Family Navigation Project is a service for parents, to assist them in finding the appropriate mental health resources for their youth (ages 13-26). A professional navigator will speak to the family and support them through the process of accessing mental health care for their youth.

About the author

Dr. John Teshima

Dr. John Teshima

Dr. John Teshima is a youth psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.