An Ottawa family says enough talk about youth mental health; it's time for action.

That comment came after their suicidal daughter fell through the cracks of an overburdened, understaffed system.  When we met 17-year-old Grace Cowie and her mother, we asked them if they were sure they wanted their story and their identities to be made public.

They said yes, that the system was letting them down and they hoped speaking out would help others.  

Managing her diabetes has been a relatively simple process for Grace Cowie, who was diagnosed just last May.  She’s got the medical help and the medicines she needs to keep it in check. But when it comes to managing her mental health, it's been a whole other story.

“I get very anxious a lot,” says Cowie, “and when I have panic attacks, I think scary things that I don't think under normal circumstances.”

Cowie says she would spend days, even weeks in her bedroom.  She suffers from severe anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder tendencies.  Last month, after a suicide attempt, she spent eight nights at the Queensway Carleton Hospital, waiting for a bed in the mental health unit. 

“They keep discharging,” says her mother, Nancy Power, “and every time you try to argue with them, it's because they're the doctor. They don't even want to listen.”

Queensway-Carleton has seen a 28 percent in admissions to its Mental Health Unit in four years. It’s a similar situation at other area hospitals as well.

Nancy Power says all the talk about youth mental health has increased awareness but not resources.

“There’s no additional beds at CHEO, no additional beds at the Queensway-Carleton over the last little while despite an astronomical increase in demand.  I think people need to be aware of this.”

The Youth Services Bureau says the case highlights the issues around young people transitioning from the youth system to adult care, those 16 to 24 years of age. The Ministry of Child and Youth Services funds mental health patients at CHEO until 16 years of age, when their care is normally transferred to the youth program at The Royal. Jane Fjeld is the Associate Executive Director of the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa that works with CHEO and The Royal to provide mental health services to youth in our community.

“There has been partnership with CHEO, The Royal and public health to look at a defined program,” says Fjeld, “we call it “Bridges”, to understand how to address these kinds of complex issues, where kids need the right services at the right time.”

CHEO does coordinate the transition from its facility to adult care but admits navigating the mental health system is a challenge for families and patients.

Dr. Hazen Gandy is the Division Head of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at CHEO.

“We're trying to develop systems of care that allow people to enter the system quickly, to get the service they need at the time they need it and know who to turn to if they need more service down the road.” 

 Grace is back at CHEO and both she and her mother both hope this will be a turning point for her.  In the meantime, she is hoping putting a face to this complex issue will help others.

“It has to be taken as seriously as other physical illnesses,” she says.

Grace and her mom have learned a lot since coming forward with their story, not the least of which is that they are not alone in their journey.  There is a group called the "Parents Lifeline of Eastern Ontario" that has offered many families invaluable support.  You can reach them at: