YOUTH WELLNESS: Advocating for youth mental health in Maple Ridge

Jason Somersett and Dr. Matt Chow work at the Ridge Meadows Youth Wellness Centre Saturdays. - Ashley Wadhwani/TIMES
Jason Somersett and Dr. Matt Chow work at the Ridge Meadows Youth Wellness Centre Saturdays.
— image credit: Ashley Wadhwani/TIMES

Walking into the Greg Moore Youth Centre, one might miss the office that currently makes up the Ridge Meadows Youth Wellness Centre.

But, while maybe still nervous to be there in the first place, a youth will find the smiling face of Jason Somersett, and Dr. Matt Chow inside.

And the pair are both welcoming, because of course that’s the point they’re trying to make: that youth’s needs are important.

Chow and Somersett currently work on the frontlines at the centre. While Chow is the psychiatrist, Somersett acts as the youth advocate.

Their goal is to be accessible to youth, which means working on a Saturday when young people can stop by without missing school, or friends finding out they’re there.

Since May, Chow’s seen about 80 youth on a referral-basis.

Reasons range from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, substance-use issues, ADD, and ADHD, Chow explained.

Meanwhile, the centre’s maintained low costs, created strengthening collaborations with local family doctors, and is growing in terms of the numbers of youth clients it’s helping.

“It’s like a well-oiled machine,” he described.

For community-based physicians like Dr. Melodie Prem-Smith and Dr. Ursula Luitingh, having someone local to refer to has given both doctors hope that their patients are getting help.

Prem-Smith said she no longer feels that she has to “go beyond what we feel comfortable addressing,” with mental health.

When both medical doctors have a youth come in with needs they can’t address, they refer them to Chow and Somerville.

Typically, in other referrals, this is when the communication ends, and the patient has to find additional services themselves.

“A lot of times they get lost,” Luitingh said.

However, at the centre, Chow is keeping physicians in the loop with his plan on treatment.

“Communication doesn’t cost a lot,” Chow explained.

And as youth begin necessary treatment and care, Somersett acts as “the quarterback,” helping youth and parents find other programs and services.

“One of the things that I hear most from parents is that it is great to have someone who is able to help them navigate the mental health system, which at times can be quite confusing,” Somersett said.

Still in its pilot stages, the wellness centre initiative has an uphill battle in fixing mental health in the community.

With cancer, early detection is integral to treatment, Chow said. But with mental health “it’s the exact opposite.”

Yet, for people with mild to moderate disorders, early intervention prevents 90 per cent of these cases developing into “acute,” Chow stated.

More early intervention for youth will undoubtedly alleviate the volume of mental health care needed later, “if it’s even possible by that point,” he noted.

Chow wants young people to feel they can go to their doctor with any level of mental health need.

And looking ahead, he hopes the wellness centre becomes a one-stop-shop for youth to get that help.

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