A B.C. organization is changing mental health care delivery by pioneering a one-stop-shop model to make getting help easier for youth.

Foundry opened its first in-person sites last year that serve as walk-in-clinics for young people to get their mental health needs met in one spot.

“The status quo has been that mental health services are offered in a specialized manner requiring wait lists or wait times,” said Dr. Steven Mathias, Foundry’s executive director. “But young people need help in the moment, rather than in a week or in a year.”

Foundry opened several clinics across the province in 2017, and plans to add more in 2018.

Status quo means sharing your struggle over and over

The Foundry model aims to provide what practitioners call “wrap-around care.” That means getting all your needs met in one place, from counselling to medication to housing support.

That's something Andrea Vukobrat wished had existed when she first sought help.

Vukobrat’s family came to Canada as refugees from the Balkans when she was three, and she told CTV News that growing up she struggled with anxiety, an eating disorder, self-harm and substance use.

“I assumed I was a bad kid and that something was wrong with me,” she said.

Andrea Vukobrat
Andrea Vukobrat now works as Foundry's youth engagement coordinator.

She first sought help from a UBC campus counsellor when she was 18.

She’s grateful the university got her to see a counsellor quickly, but said she could only access a limited number of sessions.

On top of seeing her counsellor on campus, Vukobrat also needed to see a psychiatrist an hour and a half away.

“All the phone calls, all the wait lists … you’re telling your story over and over,” she said.

Her psychiatrist and her counsellor didn’t talk to one another—something Vukobrat thinks needs to change.

“You’ve laid yourself bare over and over again and you’re not getting the help you need. Not because people don’t care but because of the way the system is set up.”

Bringing mental health services under one roof

Dr. Mathias thinks it’s imperative that access to mental health care improves for youth, especially considering one in every five Canadians will struggle with a mental illness by age 25.

Steve Mathias
Dr. Steven Mathias, Foundry's executive director, hopes to improve how mental health care is delivered.

When he started his psychiatric career working with homeless youth in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside he heard again and again that “folks were running out of places to get help.” They struggled to navigate where to go and where their families could also get support.

Foundry, he said, hopes to change that by bringing mental health services under one roof.

Anyone aged 12 to 24 can walk into one of the centres and see a doctor, a counsellor or participate in peer support initiatives free of charge.

“Having all the services in one space would have been … I don’t know … it would have made a difference,” Vukobrat said of her years of accessing mental health care while in school.

Recognizing the importance of mental health care

Foundry is funded by the B.C. government and by charitable organizations.

“B.C. recognized this was important,” Dr. Mathias said. “No one is really doing this in Canada.”

He looked at a model called Head Space in Australia for inspiration to start Foundry.  For now, the centres are unique in Canada. But the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health in Ontario is looking at opening nine similarly integrated hubs aimed at youth in the future.

For now, Dr. Mathias hopes kids in B.C. take that crucial step to seek out care.

“The number one reason kids don’t go for help is they think their problems are going to go away,” Dr. Mathias said. “Go for help … it’s amazing how good it feels.”