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Navigating the Mental Health System

Dealing with the mental health care system isn't easy. You're not alone! Learn from other youth that have navigated the system.

If you feel something isn't quite right with your mental health, the best first step may be seeing your family doctor.

Don't have a family doc? A walk-in clinic can help assess your situation and provide referrals for mental health services etc., too.

Mood tracking (paper or app) can be helpful to bring to appointments, especially when a doctor is getting to know your patterns.

Usually a referral is needed for psychiatrists or specialized services. For general therapy however, you typically just need yourself! 

If you're in university or college, counselling fees are often included in your tuition. Look into what's covered!

Had a bad experience with service providers? Don't give up! Keeping looking until you find the right fit, they're out there!

Provincial health insurance covers services provided by psychiatrists, and you can find "talk" therapists who are covered too!

For information about mental health and addiction services near you, and to connect with them, use ConnexOntario's chat or helpline.

Some employers provide Employee Assistance Plans that offer free short-term counselling for employees and their immediate family.

Volunteer with a mental health organization. While helping others you can learn about local services and meet helpful contacts.

While you wait for services, write a safety contract with someone you trust and let them know what helps keep you safe.

If you're receiving therapy in Ontario that's not covered by insurance and you're struggling to pay, look into ODSP and OW.

If you have a friend or loved one seeking help, be patient and know that it can take time. Be there for them when you can.

Dial 211 to find out about or get connected to community, health, and social services across Canada. Or visit

Don't let the name fool you, Kids Help Phone serves up to 20 year olds! Or there's Good2Talk, specifically for youth in post-secondary.

Reach out to a friend or family member. If one has been unsupportive, keep trying. You'll find an ally who will help.

Look into support groups in your community, you can learn from fellow members how they worked through challenges in the system.

If you find yourself hospitalized, speak to an onsite 'lawyer for patients rights' to protect yourself and your rights.

Know that what works for someone else may not for you. Likewise, what didn't work for someone else may work for you!

Make a crisis plan! As you wait for the right support, it's key to identify tools to help cope in the meantime.

Ask your doctor or mental health worker about seeking case management services for help with access to other social services and system navigation.

Think you've received a wrong diagnosis? Trust your instincts and get a second (or third) opinion, and make sure you get proper treatment.

Seek out peer support programs so you can connect with others, gain valuable insight, and you might learn from their experience.

Identify three people that you know you can call/text if you are in crisis and need support. Have their numbers on your phone.

If you're looking into a residential treatment facility, get on the wait list ASAP. The wait can be a year or more!

Don't be afraid to ask someone to help YOU get help. It can be exhausting to navigate and advocate for yourself when you're struggling.

Most hospitals have a patient delegate who can speak on your behalf if you have concerns or conflict related to your care.

If you're interested in sharing your personal story, watch Top 10 Tips for Sharing Your Story - created by youth!

There are crisis centres open 24/7. Suicidal thoughts? Find someone to talk to! Canadian numbers here.

Be open to new treatment options. They may not be what you had in mind, but could really have a positive impact for you.

Wait times can be long and then sometimes that particular help doesn't work out. Remember, you still need help and you're still worthy of it.