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The Perspective
The Perspective

January 27, 2016

Treating the body and mind together

Dr. Tony Pignatiello, Associate Psychiatrist-in-Chief, The Hospital for Sick Children; Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto; Director of Child and Youth Health and Family Services, Medical Psychiatry Alliance.

On a day when mental health is being discussed across the country, I can’t help but think about a gap in the mental health system that we are working hard to fill.

Most of us know where to go when our children are physically unwell.  Some of us know where to go and what to do when we have concerns about our children’s mental health.  But what about when we are worried about the physical AND mental well-being of our children and youth?  

Over the years, I’ve seen countless children dealing with mental health issues brought on or compounded by medical issues. I’ve seen many health-care providers, who don’t have the knowledge and/or skill set to help children, youth, and families with these combined needs.

Some people blame lack of services, but that’s not how I see it. It’s more an issue of an uncoordinated, dichotomous, and often confusing system, which is a sad situation for these particularly vulnerable young patients—like 15-year-old Sarah who comes in for repetitive cancer treatment, who has developed severe anxiety as a result of stressful tests and overwhelming treatments; or 7-year-old Billy who is missing weeks of school, as doctors go down the path of trying to figure out what the medical cause may be of his constant stomach aches, without thinking about what’s going on in Billy’s life.  

The good news is SickKids along with my colleagues from The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Trillium Health Partners, and the University of Toronto are working diligently to fill the gap. Two years ago on Bell Let’s Talk Day, we launched the Medical Psychiatry Alliance (MPA) with the goal to shift the way we deliver, think about, research, and teach health-care providers about services for patients who suffer from both physical and mental health issues.

We hope that this is just the beginning. On this day when everyone is talking about mental health, let’s talk about better ways of delivering care to meet the complex needs of children dealing with mental and physical health issues.