Private youth mental health clinic opens in Winnipeg

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A psychiatric nurse-run private youth mental health clinic has opened in Winnipeg, aiming to help tackle months-long wait times in the public health-care system.

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A psychiatric nurse-run private youth mental health clinic has opened in Winnipeg, aiming to help tackle months-long wait times in the public health-care system.

Psychiatric nurse Shea Silva began seeing clients last week at Cocoon Mental Health Clinic. The site in southwest Winnipeg offers mental health assessments for ages 12 to 25, at a rate of $150 per hour.

Silva said she decided to take the leap into private practice, after working with adults in hospital and with youth in schools.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Shea Silva is a psychiatric nurse and executive director of Cocoon Clinic which provides youth with mental health services.

In an interview, Silva said she hopes the clinic (of which she’s executive director) will help take some of the burden off the provincial health-care system by reducing wait times — which she said currently are likely to be as long as six to nine months.

The clinic promises to see clients and complete assessments within two weeks, and estimates it will take up to three sessions for one assessment to be completed.

Psychiatric nurses already work in private practice, but Silva said her vision for the clinic is one that works alongside family physicians and other health-care professionals.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Psychiatric nurses already work in private practice, but Shea Silva said her vision for the clinic is one that works alongside family physicians and other health-care professionals.

There’s already high demand for mental health services, Silva said. It’s often easier to access urgent treatment when someone is already in crisis, she added; if they’re managing day-to-day, they’ll most often have to wait.

Her aim is to help people whose symptoms are too severe to be managed only by a visit to a family doctor but not so urgent they need to go to a crisis centre.

“It comes from the purest of intentions; I just really want to help and make a bit of a difference (to fill) these gaps,” she said. “We want to work alongside all of the amazing work that is already being done. We don’t want to replace, we want to supplement.”

After referral and assessments are complete, a care plan will be created for the client, Silva said. Age is the only criteria for who can attend the clinic.

Winnipeg-based Manitoba Adolescent Treatment Centre is one of the places that takes referrals for youth mental health assessments within the public system. Some centre clients are waiting more than a year for an assessment.

On Tuesday, a Shared Health spokesperson said the wait time varies from one month to over a year. That doesn’t include the time it takes to receive treatment.

The health minister’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Improving access to mental health services and assessments for children and teens was one of the key recommendations in the 2018 Virgo report commissioned by the provincial government.

As part of its implementation of those recommendations, the province has previously pointed to hiring additional staff (including psychiatric nurses) to work in the children’s emergency department at Health Sciences Centre. The province spent more than $1.2 million doing so between 2020 and 2022, according to an implementation report posted on its website.

However, overall funding for youth mental health services hasn’t doubled, like the Virgo report recommended it must, said Thomas Linner, director of Manitoba Health Coalition. “There has been no significant increase in funding since that report was put forward.”

Most of the public concerns reported to the coalition involve difficulty navigating seniors care and personal care homes, but the organization has been hearing about long mental health wait times as well, Linner said.

It’s a crisis that won’t be solved simply by for-profit clinics, he added.

“The government needs to step in and ensure that it is not just wealth that assures someone they will be able to receive the help they need if they’re having a mental health crisis. We need a plan from across Canada, as well.”

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.

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