Janice Skot knew they had to get the job done. The Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) Regional Health Centre president and CEO knew students struggling academically because of mental health issues needed somewhere to get the care and support they needed to get back on track and back to their community high schools.

Mission accomplished, after RVH celebrated the opening of its Day Program on Sept. 7.

A service of the Simcoe Muskoka Regional Child and Youth Mental Health Program, in partnership with the Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB), the focus of the program is to provide academic and mental health services for high school students unable to attend classes due to a diagnosis of anxiety or depression. The aim is to transition the students back to their community high school.

Four students will kick off the school session, with another six expected by the end of the month. The Grades 9-12 students will be taught the reading, writing and arithmetic found in traditional school classes, with an added bonus of recreational therapies and mental health counseling.

“We know that a teenager’s mental health is just as important as their physical health and they deserve the same quality of care and access to support,” Skot said of the service that will see students attend class during the day and be able to return home evenings. “One year ago, hospital-based mental health services for troubled kids weren’t available anywhere in this region.”

Since the regional program opened 10 months ago, almost 300 young people have been cared for in the eight-bed inpatient unit. But Skot also knew the job wasn’t finished.

“We needed a service for students who are struggling academically because of their illness,” she said. “Today we have finished the job and opened up a new avenue of hope for high school students with anxiety or depression. Our goal is to fill their backpacks with effective strategies to get them back to their community high school.”

RVH worked to establish partnerships with SCDSB, Eastview Secondary School, Innisdale Secondary School, Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, Kinard Child and Family Services and New Path Youth and Family Services, the lead agency for the provincial government’s Moving on Mental Health for Simcoe County.

“The SCDSB is really excited to partner with the RVH for this new program, supporting adolescents, aged 14 to 18, who are struggling with mental health issues,” said SCDSB chairperson Peter Beacock. “Combining education and treatment in a hospital setting, it will provide students the support and skills needed to return to school and be successful. Using a day-treatment model, the program will be unique and include trained recreational and behavioural therapists, as well as teachers, that will allow  students to continue to attend school while receiving treatment.”

Photo: The Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre recently celebrated the opening of the Day Program. On hand to helping to start the new school year are, from the left: Melody Boyd, Regional Cancer and Mental Health and Addictions Program operations director; Peter Beacock, SCDSB chairperson; Janice Skot, RVH president and CEO; Heather Cochrane, Adult Crisis Services and Simcoe Muskoka Regional Child and Youth Mental Health Program manager; Michael O’Keefe, RVH board of directors chair; and Dr. Eric Mulder, RVH chief of psychiatry.

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