Children and youth in Sudbury were treated at hospital 580 times for mental health issues last year, according to the fifth edition of Vital Signs.
This represents 3.4 per cent of all children's visits to Sudbury Regional Hospital's emergency room, according to the annual report released by the Sudbury Community Foundation. This proportion was 0.5 per cent higher than children treated for mental health reasons at all hospitals under the umbrella of the North East Local Health Integration Network and 0.3 per cent higher than all LHINs across the province.
The report also revealed that 91 youth under the age of 24 were treated for “self-harm,” which includes self-poisoning, overdose and self-inflicted wounds. That number is up from the previous 82 reported cases between April 2009 and March 2010.
These were only several startling statistics revealed through the annual report. There is much more. According to Vital Signs, the obesity rate for the population 18 years of age and older in the Sudbury and District Health Unit area was pegged at 24.9 per cent, up from the previous 19.3 per cent.
This puts the obesity rate for Sudburians above the provincial and national averages, both of which stand at 18 per cent.
The report further states that child poverty rate has increased over the years, with an estimated 6,240 children living below the poverty line.
Furthermore, a staggering 21.7 per cent of Sudbury youth identified themselves as daily smokers, well above the provincial and national averages of 5.1 per cent and 6.4 per cent respectively.
Dr. Denis Roy, president and CEO of Sudbury Regional Hospital and honorary chair of Sudbury Community Foundation, said mental health issues among youth is a “social tragedy” that has barely started to get the attention it deserves. He said health-care providers are at a loss as to why this is happening.
“It is alarming that an increasing number of children are feeling so discouraged or hopeless about their lives that they are ending up in the hospital,” Roy said. “It's a growing problem that society as a whole, and the health-care system in particular, must address.”
The findings in the Vital Signs report confirm what Roy said he has been advocating for a long time.
“We must have a health-care system that meets and is sensitive to the unique mental, physical and emotional needs of our children,” he said. “Children are not small adults, nor should they be viewed as such. That's why we are changing the way pediatric services are delivered and practised in our health-care system.”
Obesity rates are increasing and it's becoming an epidemic across Canada, especially in northern Ontario, which has the highest rate of diabetes in the country, Roy said.
“Good health, especially for children, begins in the home. It continues at school, and it continues at our community playgrounds, rinks and even in the workplace. Good health should happen everywhere in the community across all sectors, and this is something we need to talk about more in this city.”
Sudbury Community Foundation launched its fifth edition of the report on Oct. 4. The foundation focused on pediatric health issues this year, because the health of children affects the vitality of the community as a whole, Roy said.
It is important for any community to have a road map to help guide efforts in achieving a healthy society, Roy added. Vital Signs is such a tool, and it will help the community and its leaders build a society that is as healthy as it can be.
“Vital Signs gives us a clear idea of where we are and where we need to focus our priorities,” Roy said.
While the report is designed to highlight issues that need more attention, it also points out what Sudburians should be celebrating.
For example, Sudbury has more subsidized childcare spaces for low-income families at 274 per 1,000 children, compared to other municipalities in Ontario. The provincial average was 202.
Greater Sudbury's art scene has also experience positive growth. There are now five active theatre groups staging productions.
Vital Signs is a national initiative of the Community Foundations of Canada with 22 other community foundations across the country launching their reports today. Vital Signs and an enhanced version with links to source information, is available at www.vitalsignssudbury.ca.