La pandémie silencieuse | par Amelie Armenio
Texte en anglais

We are told that our teenage years will be the best years of our lives, that we should enjoy every minute of our problem-free youth. Unfortunately, for many Canadian teens these are the years in which most fall victim to the endless class of mental illnesses. The lack of proper guidance and resources are at the root of an epidemic that has caused innumerable causalities amongst children across the globe. Our social media posts are no longer enough to save the lives of children suffering in silence, stronger measures must be implemented if real change is to be expected.

Mental Health

The mind and body are systems designed to work together to keep humans alive – simply maintaining the well-being of one system is not enough to be truly healthy. Mental health, like physical health, can easily deteriorate if not treated or cared for. Moreover, limited access to preventative and remedial mental health services can result in the development of serious mental illnesses, regardless of a person’s age, race, or gender (CMHA, 2022).
Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report addressing a public health concern regarding the significant surge in poor mental health amongst children of all ages. Accordingly, children are most inclined to develop mental health disorders when exposed to maltreatment, neglect, substance use, or belonging to minority groups, particularly those of Indigenous populations (CMHA, 2021).
The most common mental health disorders in children range from anxiety, depression, attention- deficit/hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders and other emotional, social, and behavioral illnesses (CDPC, 2022). While no single indicator can be defined to justify the children’s mental health crisis, the promotion and understanding of good mental health, as well as addressing mental disorders early on in children’s lives, are critical elements which can help improve the crisis on a national level (CDPC, 2022).

The Problem

Contrary to popular belief, most of the world’s developed and “rich” countries have been proven to be those with the poorest child well-being outcomes, as well as those with the highest rates of children with mental health illnesses (UNICEF, 2020).
In the 2020 UNICEF Innocenti Report Card 16 it was revealed that Canada ranks 31st out of 38 wealthy countries with respect to the mental health and happiness of children within their country (UNICEF, 2020). The reason for Canada’s alarmingly low ranking is due to the countries’ failure to provide adequate intervention and implementation of public policies and laws regarding the mental health crisis of children (UNICEF, 2020). Consequently, approximately 1.2 million Canadian children under the age of 18 are affected by mental illnesses – with less than 20% of those children being untreated and/or unaware of the services available to them (YMHC, 2019). Furthermore, suicide has now become the second leading cause of death for Canadians aged 15-24, while First Nations youth are likely to die by suicide 5-6 times more often than non- Aboriginal youth.
While children are considered to be the most vulnerable members of our society and not capable of truly exercising or understanding their rights, a burden lies on both Canadian parents and the state to ensure that adequate rights and services are easily accessible and provided for them.

The Law

The sources of law governing a Canadian child’s right to health are provided for in several instruments of national and international law.

In Canada, both the federal and provincial governments have developed mental health acts in order to regulate the protection of persons whose mental state presents a danger to themselves or others. While these acts do not necessarily target the mental health crisis of Canadian youth, several commissions and programs have been created by the Canadian legislatures in attempt to bring awareness to children’s mental health and assist children in need (Khaliq, 2022). These include websites, hotlines, health and counselling services, and psychiatry programs, such as, Kids Help Phone Canada, Mind your Mind, and Tel-Jeunes.

On December 13th, 1991, Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child “UNCRC”, whereby the General Assembly of the United Nations took urgent measures to promote and protect both the physical and emotional well-being of children around the world. Following Canada’s ratification of the UNCRC, all domestic law must now adhere and respect the principles established within the Convention, subject to two reservations made by Canada (Noël, 2015).

The fundamental provisions of this Convention guarantee the right to all children and adolescents to receive the “highest attainable standard of health” through treatment of illnesses and rehabilitation of health (MacDonald, 2017). Furthermore, the Convention sees that children in alternative care have a right to periodic review of treatment and all other circumstances relevant to placement for “physical or mental health.” (MacDonald, 2017). The issue of mental health was thus analyzed and studied in order to have a direct or indirect implication of children’s mental health in every article of the Convention, with exception to few articles dealing with definitional and procedural issues (Prilleltensky, 1994).