Youth Access to Mental Health Services: Perceived Needs and Barriers

26 January 2022

NB youth have mental health needs 

According to the 2018-2019 edition of the New Brunswick Student Wellness Survey, half of grades 6 to 12 students report symptoms of anxiety or depression in the 12 months prior to the survey. In some cases, youth can cope with such episodes. Either on their own, or with the help of caring friends and family, they get through it. But in many cases, symptoms are more severe or persistent. That is when they may need help from a mental health professional.

Close to one third (30%) of youth report having felt the need to see someone for a mental or emotional problem they were having. One in every 10 did not see someone; this represents around 3,900 New Brunswick youth with perceived mental health needs that are not met, for various reasons like: access, awareness, stigma, etc.



Barriers to access 

Despite collective efforts to end stigma around mental health, stigma remains a strong barrier to accessing mental health services. Youth report that the number one reason why they did not see someone for their mental or emotional problem was because they “felt uncomfortable going for help” (70%).

This is followed by a 22% of youth who “did not know where to go to get help.” The figure that follows depicts how, once more, the reality is different for youth living in different parts of the province. 



Even when youth know where to go for mental health services and gather the courage to seek help, there remains barriers, such as long wait times. In 2019-2020, youth referred for addiction and mental health services generally waited 58 days from the day their referral was received to the day a clinician was assigned as their case worker (New Brunswick Department of health  - Addiction and Mental Health Services – Client Service Delivery System Database).

The following figure shows how wait times vary around the province. Youth in Health Zone 2 (Fundy Shore and Saint John Area) have significantly shorter wait times (41 days) than youth in Health Zone 4 that have to wait generally more than 3 months (95 days).  




Our data shows that 30% of New Brunswick youth have perceived mental health needs. Unfortunately, many go with their needs unmet for various reasons. Stigma and awareness of resources are the initial main barriers to receiving services. Timely access to services is also a challenge everywhere in the province, with some areas struggling even more so than others.

The different realities observed in the health zones highlight some areas for further investigation.  Although youth in zone 4 report lower mental health needs and unmet needs, those who need to access services have the longest wait times in the province.

The Government of New Brunswick Health Plan announced late 2021 includes access to addiction and mental health services as one of the five specific areas for action.

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