Mental health education can start as early as kindergarten

February 16, 2021

Should mental health be taught in school? Yes, according to Charlotte Waddell, the director the Children’s Health Policy Centre, speaking in a recent interview with the Tyee.

Waddell said that anxiety — what it is and how to deal with it — would be a highly appropriate topic for all students from kindergarten to high school. “Anxiety would be a fantastic teaching module — for example, the physiological reactions that everybody has experienced, that are in some ways evolutionary and protective when there’s a threat.”

“Then you couple that with: What are healthy responses for managing anxiety? How do you know when it starts to tip into something that’s not as helpful for you?” Waddell said.

But Waddell also noted that only 44 per cent of young people experiencing a mental disorder in B.C. are getting access to treatment. And we wouldn’t accept such low treatment numbers for illnesses such as cancer or diabetes. So mental healthcare for young people has a long way to go.

As well, COVID is likely to lead to increases in anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress among youth who’ve been quarantined or isolated. This makes dealing with questions relating to mental health even more urgent, she says.

For details of the Centre’s report on COVID to the B.C. Representative of Children and Youth, see here.

Read the whole story on mental health education here.

Opportunities to help kids during COVID

February 12, 2021

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada has a unique opportunity to be a world leader in children’s mental health, according to Charlotte Waddell, director of the Children’s Health Policy Centre.

Speaking in an interview with the CBC public affairs radio program The House, Waddell said that nearly 800,000 Canadian children are already coping with mental disorders and this will only worsen with the pandemic.

Based on evidence from previous public health disasters, such as SARS and floods, “we anticipate the needs will increase dramatically — perhaps two to tenfold,” she said. In particular, anxiety, behaviour problems, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are all expected to increase.

But the good news is that Statistics Canada recently completed a high-quality survey of 45,000 children, just before the pandemic began. According to Waddell, this “trove of pre-pandemic data” gives us the opportunity to repeat the survey to compare pre- and post-pandemic numbers.

Such analysis will lead to better, more strategic support for children. “We have an ethical imperative to act,” Waddell says. “And if we don’t act, we run the risk of causing damage to a generation of kids.”

The complete interview with The House can be heard here.

Director named to McMaster University Alumni Gallery

December 15, 2020

Charlotte Waddell, the director of the Children’s Health Policy Centre, has been honoured as a member of McMaster University’s Alumni Gallery.

The Gallery currently includes the biographies and photographs of 427 interesting McMaster graduates who have made significant contributions to society on a local, national or global level. Members of the Gallery include the former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Honourable Lincoln Alexander, actor Martin Short, and astronaut Roberta Bondar.

Waddell earned her MD from McMaster where she completed residencies in Family Medicine and Psychiatry. She also undertook a research fellowship at McMaster’s Offord Centre for Child Studies before becoming an assistant professor with the Centre. From there she moved to UBC for six years until she was recruited by SFU to take up the Canada Research Chair in Children’s Health Policy, Tier 2, and to launch the Children’s Health Policy Centre in 2006.

Her story can be seen on the McMaster website.


What public data sources can help us monitor children’s mental health in BC?

December 10, 2020

Improving the mental health of children in BC requires monitoring across all age groups — from infancy through late adolescence — to assess public investments aimed at better meeting children’s needs.

How to achieve this goal comprehensively was the subject of a report prepared by the Children’s Health Policy Centre (CHPC) at the request of the Child and Youth Mental Health Policy Branch of the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development. The BC Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions cosponsored the project.

The CHPC conducted an audit of possible data sources with potential application in BC, applying a population health framework to ensure comprehensiveness. The report examined 25 sources, identifying two types that — if used in aggregate —offer potential for ongoing monitoring. They are:

  1. For assessing determinants and status: Canada Census and BC Education data (determinants; covering all ages); Early and Middle Years Development Instruments (status; covering younger and middle school-age children only); and Canadian Community Health, Health Behaviour in School-Age Children and McCreary Adolescent Health Surveys (status; covering adolescents only); and
  2. For assessing interventions and services: MCFD’s Brief Child and Family Phone Interview (BCFPI) combined with BC Medical Services Plan (MSP) diagnoses from fee-for-service practitioners (mental healthcare encounters; covering all ages).

Yet each of these sources has limitations. For example, the BCFPI and MSP only cover those children who access services. And we know from high-quality epidemiological studies that the majority (56%) of children with mental disorders do not receive any services for these conditions.

So it is crucial to use population-based public data sources (such as #1 above) in combination with “clinical” sources (such as #2 above). And most importantly, public data sources should always be normed against epidemiological studies — which give the most accurate depiction of how many children need assistance.

For more information and to review the entire report, see here.