Bringing innovation in mental health care to young people across Scarborough.

Scarborough Health Network (SHN) is always invested in the specific needs of our community. Sometimes, that means designing services that bridge a gap, or embracing the newest technology; other times it means seeking insights from our patients, families, and community, or raising financial support for new equipment and capital renovations. What’s consistent throughout it all is SHN’s vision to become Canada’s leading teaching community health network – transforming your health experience. This rings true across all of our medical programs, from emergency care to nephrology to mental health.

Bridging the gap

We all have mental health. Some of us have also experienced mental illness. But while efforts to increase access to lifesaving mental health services are on the rise, there is one vulnerable population that has seemingly slipped through the cracks. Young adults aged 19 to 24 who are “aging out” of the children’s system, or who have never been connected to mental health services at all, experience markedly decreased access to psychiatric care, with limited psychotherapy and psychosocial support. Community partners assist with treatment, but are often unable to accommodate the neurobiological, emotional, social, and developmental needs of youth experiencing severe mental illness.

To fix this gap, SHN’s Mental Health program, in collaboration with its Youth Advisory Council (patient advisors between the ages of 18 and 24), brought forward the proposal for Link, a unique program in Scarborough and Ontario, because of its focus on youth with severe mental illness. Rehabilitation, individual, and group therapy, and Internet-based cognitive behavioural therapy (ICBT) are just a few of the extensive mental health and medical services available through Link. The program is supported by child and youth counsellors with age-appropriate experience, dedicated child/adolescent psychiatrists, and adult psychiatrists to support the bridge and transition the youth, plus access to community partners across Scarborough.

At the same time, Link helps patients to navigate and connect to supports in their community, including counselling, education, employment and housing. A weekly drop-in program, which is geared towards building connections with peers and learning skills that will help with navigating life’s stressors, is also available. For 22-year-old Shante Taylor, the program has allowed her to feel a sense of support that she didn’t realize she needed.

“Struggling with my mental health, I came to the Emergency Department in hopes of getting help and was referred to Link. I was dealing with unresolved grief after losing both of my parents,” Shante reflected. “At a time when I felt my most vulnerable, it has been extremely helpful having this resource available for me right here in Scarborough where I grew up and still live.”

Shante has come a long way in the short time she has been supported by Link. “Shante has been working so hard and embracing the program so openly,” shared Natasha Halliday, Child and Youth Counsellor. “Every week she is making great strides to incorporate the discussions, lessons, and elements of her treatment plan, into her daily life.”

Of course, it’s not without the generous support of donors who helped bring the Link Mental Health Pilot Program at SHN’s Shoniker Clinic to life that Shante is experiencing this

level of mental well-being. “I feel a new sense of independence and support that is allowing me to learn how to pick myself back up when I didn’t think I could. I want to be able to help to spread the word that this incredible support for young people is in our own backyard,” Shante said.

Thank you to our donors! With $140,000 from Brian and Carolyn Neysmith, $100,000 from George and Tami Cope, $100,000 from RBC Foundation, and $20,000 from the Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund, the ground-breaking Link program is raising the standards of care for at-risk young people in Scarborough.