Youth Wellness Centre: Teens’ needs set the scene in Hamilton

“We really wanted to make early intervention better for all youth,” says Lisa Jeffs (pictured right), project manager of the Youth Wellness Centre in Hamilton. “We recognized that we were offering a Cadillac model for early psychosis, but when it came to youth with first episode mood, anxiety or addictions issues, those teens faced long waits to access assessment and treatment.”

The Youth Wellness Centre (YWC) is an innovative service that will close system gaps by focusing on identifying young people experiencing mental health issues for the first time, and getting them help at an early stage. It will also support those who are moving into adult services.

In our latest Promising Practice, Pam Gillett profiles YWC. Read it below or download the PDF.

Promising Practices profiles innovative practices and initiatives from around Ontario.

About the Youth Wellness Centre in Hamilton

Lisa Jeffs

“After many years of thought and planning, we really believe we’ve arrived at a special result. The best treatments right away will be our mantra. The potential for altering the trajectory of mental illness in young people is staggering.” — Dr. Peter J. Bieling, PhD, Director, Mood &  Anxiety Services, Geriatric Services Quality and Evaluation at St. Joseph’s Healthcare, Hamilton in reference to the new Youth Wellness Centre 

St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton has identified a key priority: improving mental health and addiction care for adolescents and young adults. And, in an intentional effort to be youth-friendly, non-stigmatizing, and easy to access, the hospital is bringing its services into the community. The new Youth Wellness Centre (YWC) will open in downtown Hamilton in September 2014.  

This innovative service will close system gaps by focusing on identifying young people experiencing mental health issues for the first time, and getting them help at an early stage. It will also support those who are moving into adult services. The model has been informed by the work of Orygen, one of the pre-eminent psychiatric research institutes in Australia and an international leader in the area of emerging disorder, youth and early intervention. The Youth Wellness Centre promises to uphold similar principles that emphasize youth-friendly service provision, youth participation, functional recovery, family support and health promotion.

This isn’t the first time St. Joe’s has been influenced by Orygen; the research of Orygen’s Executive Director, Professor Patrick McGorry, helped shape the Clegorn Early Psychosis Intervention (EPI) Program: the hospital’s service for young people experiencing psychosis. A comprehensive, community-based program, supported by Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care funding, the Cleghorn is one of 30 standardized gold standard EPI programs established in Ontario. 

However, a personal visit by McGorry in 2008 inspired staff at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton to apply his comprehensive and youth-focused early intervention approach to a broader range of mental health and addiction issues to meet the needs of youth in the community.

“We really wanted to make early intervention better for all youth,” says Lisa Jeffs, project manager of the YWC at St. Joe’s. “We recognized that we were offering a Cadillac model for early psychosis, but when it came to youth with first episode mood, anxiety or addictions issues, those teens faced long waits to access assessment and treatment.”

In response, St. Joe’s reallocated resources toward the new Youth Wellness Centre. All directors and managers in St Joe’s mental health and addiction services discussed and supported the initiative, as did service providers in the community. Jeffs is currently overseeing the development and implementation of the service.

She is finalizing a central downtown location, which will be easy to access by public transportation, and large enough to house the comprehensive care team required to help youth achieve functional recovery – which means achieving mental wellness and returning their focus to pursuing their education, work and social goals. The Cleghorn EPI program will have a satellite location in the new space, as will Alternatives for Youth, the local provider of addictions counseling for youth up to the age of 23 and their families. Psychiatrists, psychologists and nurses will be part of the care team as will occupational therapists, family educators, mental health navigators and youth mentors.

“We want to build on the success of the Cleghorn program, borrowing from its strengths,” says Jeffs. “When youth come in seeking care, they don’t tell us they want to see a psychiatrist, they tell us they want to get back to school or get back to work. It takes a coordinated effort to help that happen, and different types of expertise and support. Youth have told us that peer support is vital. We will include peers on our team - youth mentors who help to demystify the process for youth. Family educators and mental health navigators will support family engagement, because we know from the evidence that outcomes for youth improve when families are engaged in service.” 

The referral process will support youth, family, and professional referrals, making the transition into care easier. Jeffs hopes this wide-open, inclusionary approach will capture the true need in the community. The YWC will serve youth ages 17 to 24 and will remain involved with the youth for up to three to five years. To help ease the transition to adult mental health and addiction services, a Transition Support Team will work with each youth, their current provider and the adult provider. The ultimate goal: to build a strong bridge to adult care.

A Transition Coach will help coordinate care, and check in with the youth once a month during the transition. The Coach will follow up periodically for up to three to five years. 

The Youth Wellness Centre will aim to balance the sometimes-challenging differences between youth and family perspectives. Family members can still get support if their youth refuses services. To protect confidentiality families and caregivers will have a staff person dedicated to providing psycho-educational support independent of their youth.

True to the client-centred YWC approach, Lisa Jeffs recently held focus groups to enable the voice of youth and families with lived experience to influence the planning and development phase of the project. She plans to include a permanent youth advisory group to provide guidance and feedback on program development, implementation and evaluation. Youth are currently drafting the inclusion and leadership criteria. One thing is certain: a youth mentor will lead it.

“We are committed to an evaluative culture,” says Jeffs. “The services will launch with a research lead in place and a draft plan for evaluation that includes measures of youth and family satisfaction, clinical and functional recovery for youth, caregiver stress for families and youth trajectory over time.”

The youth council will also play a key role in determining research and evaluation projects and will ensure a youth-led component to these activities. But beyond these more immediate clinical goals, in the longer term the service is intended to be compatible with evaluation and research efforts driven by faculty members from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at McMaster University. It will also offer teaching opportunities for learners in the Faculty of Health Sciences at McMaster University. 

St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and its collaborating partners are investing in the future by improving the lives of teens and young adults who struggle with mental health and addiction issues in the Hamilton community. The Youth Wellness Centre’s innovation, its commitment to evidence-based practice and evaluation, youth- and family-centred care and its interdisciplinary approach to improving functional recovery are inspirational. Other communities may want to take note. 

For more information on the Youth Wellness Centre please contact Lisa Jeffs at ljeffs [at] stjoes [dot] ca.

Author: Pam Gillett
Date: May 28, 2014