The Slaight Family Foundation recently granted a total of $26.5 million to 19 organizations across Canada – including UHN – to expand mental health services for youth. (Photo: iStock)

The transition from adolescence to adulthood is a challenging time of psychological, physical and social change. Individuals between the ages of 18 and 25, known as transitional age youth (TAY), often struggle to figure out how to integrate their health needs into their life plans.

For TAY experiencing chronic illness, physical disabilities or mental health conditions, this period becomes even more challenging, with physical health conditions often giving rise to amplified mental health ones.

TAY represent one of Canada's most vulnerable populations, and yet many struggle to access fully integrated care, as health services tend to be siloed and focused on either mental or physical health needs separately.

Thanks to the generosity of The Slaight Family Foundation, that's a problem UHN is working to solve.

The Slaight Family Foundation's youth and mental health initiative

This year, UHN is the recipient of a $1.5 million gift from The Slaight Family Foundation that will help integrate mental and physical health needs of TAY, and ensure there is a seamless continuum of care from hospital to community.

The gift is part of The Slaight Family Foundation's 2023 youth and mental health initiative, which recently granted a total of $26.5 million to 19 organizations across the country to expand mental health services for youth.

"Funding for mental health initiatives doesn't just improve lives," says Gary Slaight, President and CEO of The Slaight Family Foundation. “It strengthens our entire social fabric.

"One of the issues we heard loud and clear was the disconnect between youth discharged from hospitals and the continued community support or services available to them. Investing in these connecting services and programs is an investment in the well-being and future of our youth."

UHN has been a proud beneficiary of The Slaight Family Foundation's generosity over the years, including previous support for seniors, women and mental health.

"We are grateful to The Slaight Family Foundation for their ongoing support of life-changing work at UHN," says Julie Quenneville, CEO of UHN Foundation. "Their 2023 youth and mental health initiative will support transitional age youth at an extremely critical time in their lives.

“It is an honour to have been chosen as one of the beneficiaries of their generosity once again."

Building on previous support to integrate mental and physical health

As home to Canada's largest medical psychiatry team, UHN's Centre for Mental Health is in a unique position to drive this initiative forward.

Through the generosity of The Slaight Family Foundation in 2021, UHN has made significant advances toward the full integration of mental and physical health treatment through the Mental Health in Medicine (MHiM) clinic.

UHN's MHiM has demonstrated integrated care pathways that assess and treat both mental and physical health needs improve patient outcomes, with increased access, decreased wait times and increased community connection. However, tailored services for TAY with co-occurring mental and physical health needs remains a gap and an opportunity.

This most recent gift will help address this gap by advancing this critical work for TAY and their families, both at UHN and in the community.

"Transitional age youth are at the intersection of change and vulnerability, and their health journey becomes more complex when they simultaneously grapple with specialized mental and physical health needs," says Dr. Susan Abbey, Program Medical Director and Psychiatrist-in-Chief at UHN's Centre for Mental Health. "At UHN, we see a substantial number of these patients navigating this pivotal phase of life.

"This generous donation will be instrumental in implementing a systems-level approach to improvement, ensuring that this special population receives the comprehensive support it truly deserves, and that no one loses access to treatment during the transition to adult services."

Partnering with Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario

Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario (YWHO) is a community-based initiative operating in 31 communities across Ontario to provide rapid access to high-quality services through easily identifiable, low-barrier, youth-friendly locations. Hub services include evidence-based mental health and substance use interventions tailored to an individual's needs through the integration of primary care, education, employment, housing and other support services.

As a result of the gift from The Slaight Family Foundation, UHN will partner with YWHO to build increased capacity to specifically support TAY with co-occurring mental and physical health needs, both at UHN and out in the community.

From a sample of more than 6,300 youth and 22,000 visits, 34.7 per cent of YWHO youth with mental health needs report a chronic illness. Through this new partnership, UHN's unique MHiM care model will position itself as a resource to support the mental and physical health needs of TAY across UHN, particularly for UHN clinics that do not have existing TAY resources.

As the mental health of these patients stabilizes, YWHO will provide the resources to support TAY as they transition from UHN back into the community through tailored TAY care pathways with clinical and peer support, educational resources and other individualized services.

As provincial leaders in this space, this unique partnership between UHN and YWHO will transform care delivery for transitional age youth across the entire care journey from the adult health care system and back into home communities for ongoing mental, physical and social supports.

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