Like many families in urban centres, my teenage son and I lived in our small condominium in downtown Toronto during the pandemic. It’s a lovely space in a beautiful building, and fortunately we get along very well, but looking back, the whole thing feels like a brutal dystopian nightmare that dragged on for years.
I had already been working from home for a while, but we had never anticipated a teen life replete with full school closures, virtual learning, isolation, fewer gatherings with family and friends, no clubs or sports and anxiety around catching a deadly illness, so we made do as best we could. But with depression and anxiety doubling in children during the pandemic, I knew I needed to get him out of his bedroom (he mostly attended class from his bed, like many other teens I know) so I made my office into his classroom to be sure he was at least getting exposure to sunlight at some point in the day. We stumbled along as best we could.
Still waiting on mental healthcare for your teen? Consider trying the following apps in the meantime:
EQuoo is an “emotional fitness game” designed to help young adults boost their emotional health and build resilience, all while doing something fun.
If your teen is able to settle long enough to meditate using an app such as Headspace, the benefits can be significant.
Endeavor X, the first and only FDA cleared, doctor-prescribed treatment for ADHD delivered through a video game.
Finding Provincially Insured Mental Health Help
So when my son started having panic attacks I took action immediately. In our healthcare system however, and especially in May of 2021, “action” meant a lot of patiently waiting for appointments with specialists. Accessing (OHIP covered) mental health treatment has always been challenging yet for some reason I was shocked and angry when I was told the waiting list to see a child psychiatrist was more than one year. That’s right. One year.
After wrangling back and forth with our family doctor we finally ended up getting one virtual appointment with a psychiatrist in a private clinic (this was covered by OHIP), however there is no follow up care that I can discern, and I’m still not sure that her diagnosis is correct so the whole thing resulted in no treatment plan.
And the sad truth is, we are not alone. According to StatsCan, 57% of study participants aged 15 to 17 reported their mental health as either somewhat worse or much worse than it was before physical distancing measures were implemented. As kids head back to school this fall with no COVID restrictions, Ontario and other provinces are totally lifting any quarantine mandates for those suffering from COVID. Experts are sounding dire warning bells that this could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back as our medical system crumbles before our eyes. And with mental health treatment already difficult to access, things do not appear to be improving for our teens and young adults, or anyone who needs mental health help and does not have private insurance.
So what to do, how do you help your child navigate these turbulent waters?
Technology To The Rescue
As with so many developments in healthcare these days, for those who are not suffering from severe mental health crises, we’re seeing more tools that put control of the patients health in their own hands. While apps can’t treat or diagnose any conditions, they’re a convenient way to support your teen’s mental health journey in addition to therapy or other forms of treatment, however, with over 10,000 mental health apps out there, it’s important to choose technology that has been clinically validated.
One such app is EQuoo, an “emotional fitness game” designed to help young adults boost their emotional health and build resilience, all while doing something fun. is EQuoo, an “emotional fitness game” designed to help young adults boost their emotional health and build resilience, all while doing something fun. PsycApps, which makes eQuoo, is a digital mental health startup that uses gamification, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), positive psychology and AI to treat mental illness, using evidence-based features.
Numerous scientific studies as well as thousands of years of human history have shown us that meditation is an incredibly effective tool in reducing anxiety, stress, insomnia, blood pressure and promotes many health benefits such as increased focus, pain control and more. If your teen is able to settle long enough to meditate using an app such as Headspace, the benefits can be significant.
Akili has developed Endeavor X, the first and only FDA cleared, doctor-prescribed treatment for ADHD delivered through a video game. EndeavorRx works in tandem with medication and other ADHD therapies to improve attention function in children between the ages of 8 and 12. Though Akili’s technology has so far only been cleared by the FDA to treat ADHD, the company is actively studying the platform’s ability to improve cognition in patients with other neurological disorders.
Are Mental Health Therapies covered under provincial insurance?
And of course, before your teen starts using apps to manage their mental health, a medical professional should be consulted. Depending on the therapy required and who is delivering it, mental health treatment may be covered under provincial insurance. Generally, if the patient requires a medical or hospital visit, treatment is covered. If you’re lucky enough to have a doctor who works in a Family Health Team, you may be able to access treatment with a psychologist or psychiatrist. Some family Doctors are licensed psychotherapists, however they are few and far between.
As happened with my son, visiting a psychiatrist via a doctor’s referral is covered under provincial insurance, however the psychiatrist only provides a diagnosis and a recommendation or prescription for medication, with no ongoing care. Typically, psychotherapists, social workers or psychologists are not covered under provincial health insurance plans. If you are employed with a benefits plan, you may have a mental health component so check with your employer for details.
Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions
In December 2021 Prime Minister Trudeau announced that Carolyn Bennett, MP for Toronto St. Paul’s riding will serve as the newly created Minister of Mental Health and Addictions in his cabinet. This new position signals a recognition about the importance of access to mental health treatment. We are hopeful that Minister Bennett (a former Family Physician) will make a difference in her new role.
Make sure you subscribe and stay tuned to the Health Insider for important Insider intel on advances in both our public and private systems as access to mental healthcare in Canada evolves.
This article in no way constitutes medical advice.