Below are some common questions that families ask about accessing mental health supports and services in BC for their child or youth. You’ll find suggestions about where to go and what to expect when looking for support options.
These answers were developed with parent peer support workers (FamilySmart® Parents in Residence) at the BC Children’s Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre and our parent advisory group.
Let us help guide you: Ask a question or select a category to begin.
* Are you a youth? Check out Foundry Pathfinder for personalized support options.
You are often the best judge if your child is struggling. Trust your instincts. If you notice something is different about your child’s behaviour, be curious about it. Look for changes in behaviour, mood or relationships.
Perhaps your child doesn’t seem like their usual self. They might seem more withdrawn, moody, or anxious than usual. It can look different for everyone. Mental health challenges and disorders can impact how a person thinks, feels and behaves. There are many different signs and symptoms.
If there is a specific mental health challenge that you are wondering about, visit our challenges and disorders section to learn more.
Some examples of behaviour that might raise concerns:
- sleep problems
- changes in eating patterns (loss of appetite, refuses to eat, eats an unusual amount at a time)
- feeling sad for long periods of time
- mood swings
- anxious or refuses to go to school
- more difficulty at school
- doesn’t want to leave the house
Younger children may complain about a tummy ache or other physical symptoms. They may cry more often or be easily upset. Children may cling to a parent or sibling and need more attention but not know how to ask for it. It’s important to pay attention to these clues and respond in a kind and gentle way. With older children and youth, you might notice changes in their school work or social relationships (withdrawing from friends and activities). They may push against rules and act out.
If you are concerned about your child, a good first step is to get an assessment by your family doctor or pediatrician. Or visit your local Child and Youth Mental Health office during their walk-in intake clinics (for ages 18 and younger).
If your child is having a mental health or substance use crisis and needs immediate help:
- Call 911or go to your local hospital’s emergency room (ER) if you are in need of immediate help. If it is unsafe for you to take your child to the ER, call 911 to assist you. Let the call taker know this is a "child/youth mental health emergency."
- Call 1-800- SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) anytime if you think your child may be considering suicide.
These are a few examples of times when you should seek immediate help:
If your child is…
- Thinking about or trying to end their life
- Seeing, hearing or feeling things that aren’t real and/or has beliefs that can’t possibly be true
- Having an alcohol or drug overdose, or has taken a dangerous combination of substances (like medications and alcohol)
- Demonstrating behaviour that is putting them at risk of immediate serious harm
If your child doesn’t need immediate help, you can reach out for support by:
- Connecting with a health care professional (no referral needed):
- Make an appointment with your family doctor or go to a walk-in clinic
- Access your local Child and Youth Mental Health (CYMH) intake clinic during their walk-in days and hours (for ages 18 and younger)
- Check to see if there is a Foundry Centre in your community or get support online offered by Foundry Virtual (for ages 12-24 and their caregivers).
- Ask about counselling and services offered at your school or community clinic
- Calling a phone line or online chat service that can provide support and suggest where to go for more help.
- You can always contact us at the Kelty Centre1 800 665 1822
email@example.com for help finding services for your child and to talk to parent peer support.
Some families may be surprised to learn there are Child and Youth Mental Health (CYMH) teams in about 100 BC communities. CYMH is run by the BC Government.
CYMH provides a range of mental health assessment and treatment options at no cost for children and youth (ages 18 and younger) and their families. This usually includes counselling, social work, parenting supports, and psychiatric services.
You do not need an appointment or referral to use the drop-in intake clinics. It works like a walk-in-medical clinic.
Find your local CYMH office and hours. They are open to new individuals at certain times. Check what their intake clinic hours are for your location. If you’re not sure which clinic is near you, call us at the Kelty Centre1 800 665 1822
firstname.lastname@example.org and we can help.
*Note: During COVID-19, CYMH are offering services online virtually, by phone, and in-person (with safe physical distancing). Before you visit the walk-in intake clinics, please contact your local CYMH office.
Take your child during the specific drop-in days and hours, with their BC Services Card/CareCard. You will likely be able to see someone that day for an intake interview to see if services would be a good fit for your child.
- Children 12 and older can go to the drop-in intakes without their parents or guardian, if preferred.
- If you are not sure or it is a challenge to bring your child, or can’t attend on drop-in days, call and ask to speak to an intake worker so they can help you with a plan.
- You might want to call ahead to ask if they offer the services your child may need. For example, some clinics provide ADHD assessment and others do not. They will be able to tell you where to find the services that meet your needs.
- Call ahead to ask about options for children under 5 years. Some clinics will see children 5 and younger, but in some communities there are other service options for early childhood mental health.
After the intake interview, you will be provided information about the next steps and what to expect in the process. There is often a waitlist for treatment and support services. It is a good idea to get on the waitlist, because CYMH is a way to get “into the system” so your child can receive services, including other community-based services.
Your child’s school may contact you if they see signs that your child may have mental health challenges or learning difficulties. The school may also point out concerning behaviour that is disrupting the class.
School teachers might be the first to notice behaviour that needs to be looked into. For example, they may notice if a child:
- is withdrawn from peers
- is not engaged/withdrawn from class work
- has intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities
- has trouble sitting still, listening and staying focused on tasks
- is bored, overwhelmed, or having difficulty learning
- is frustrated or angry
These symptoms may or may not be showing up at home. It may help to ask questions so you will have a better understanding about what is happening in the classroom. For example, are there particular times when they notice changes in your child’s behaviour?
Step 1: Meet with the teacher
The teacher will usually arrange a meeting with you if your child is having difficulty learning or coping at school. They may suggest connecting you with other school services or recommend assessments. You should ask what services and supports are available to you and your child.
Step 2: Talk with your family doctor
If the concerns are ongoing, make an appointment with your family doctor or pediatrician to discuss the concerns. You can then take this information back to the school and work together to support your child in school.
Step 3: Work with the teacher and school support staff to support your child
Stay in contact with the teacher to keep track of your child’s behaviour and deal with concerns in the classroom.
If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, a good first step is to get an assessment. This helps to identify the difficulties your child may have and the services that would best meet their needs.
These services are free to families in BC. Just bring your child’s BC Services Card/CareCard with you.
Try these options first (no referral needed):
- Your family doctor or a walk-in clinic.
- Intake clinics offered by Child and Youth Mental Health (CYMH) teams. These walk-in clinics are for ages 18 and younger. They are located in around 100 communities in BC. See the list of intake clinics and their hours.
- Check to see if there is a Foundry Centre in your community (for ages 12-24).
*Note: During COVID-19, appointments may be offered virtually/by phone.
You can also:
- Ask what services are available through your child’s school.
- Contact us at the Kelty Centre1 800 665 1822
email@example.com for help finding services.
After you are assessed by a doctor or a CYMH team, you may be referred to:
- a more specialized mental health or substance use program or service (e.g. a psychiatrist)
- a service provided by the BC health authority you live in
Unsure which health authority your community is in?
Check this map with website links to health authorities:
- Vancouver Coastal Health (Vancouver, Richmond, North Shore, Sea to Sky, Sunshine Coast, Central Coast)
- Fraser Health (Burnaby, Hope, White Rock, etc.)
- Island Health (Victoria, Nanaimo, Port Hardy, etc.)
- Northern Health (Prince George, Terrace, etc.)
- Interior Health (Kelowna, Kamloops, Williams Lake, etc.)
If this is a crisis and you need immediate help call 911 or go to your nearest hospital’s emergency room.
Sometimes it's difficult to find the counselling your child needs, and it can seem confusing and overwhelming. We hope the following information will make your search easier.
Counselling services can be accessed in two main ways: through the public system or the private system.
Accessing counselling through the public system
In the public system you might be able to access counselling through services at a hospital, a community mental health team or program, or your child's school. There is usually no cost to you.
For example, you may be able to access free counselling through Child & Youth Mental Health services after an intake interview (for ages 18 and under), or free drop-in counselling at Foundry Centres or Foundry Virtual for young people ages 12-24 and their caregivers.
Accessing counselling through the private system
Private counselling usually charges a fee. To find a private counsellor or psychologist, you can search these websites for options in your area:
You can use website filters to search for a counsellor in your community that specializes in certain types of therapy or mental health conditions. You can also consider your child’s preference for counsellor gender or ethnicity.
If you are comfortable, ask someone you trust to recommend a counsellor (your family doctor, close friends, school). Use this as a starting point, but look further into it yourself to make sure they are registered and a good fit for your child.
Counselling in BC (and most places) is not regulated. That means anyone can call themselves a “counsellor” or “therapist”. You will want to find someone with the proper education, training and standards of care. Make sure to look for a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) or Registered Psychologist (R.Psych). Registered Social Workers (RSW) sometimes provide counselling and might be recommended to you.
Paying for private counselling:
- Some costs might be covered if you have an extended health benefits plan. Check your plan to see what’s covered for your family so you know your options. Some plans will only cover certain types of therapy or providers and not others. For example, many plans cover a Registered Clinical Counsellor but might not cover counselling by a social worker.
- Find out if your employer offers an Employee/Family Assistance Program (EAP). EAPs often provide counselling services that are easy to access. You can speak to a counsellor on a confidential basis and without your supervisor knowing that you called.
- Some places may offer low-cost counselling in your community. You can also ask the service provider if they offer a sliding fee scale. You can always contact the Kelty Centre1 800 665 1822
firstname.lastname@example.org for help finding local options.
Finding the right fit
It’s important to remember that your child might not “click” with the first counsellor they meet, and that is totally okay.
Depending on your child’s age, let them be part of the choosing process. If your child is a youth, they may like different counsellors than someone you would choose, and that’s okay too.
Sometimes finding the “right fit” is a bit of a process. To make things easier, try to connect with the counsellor directly before you book a first appointment. That can help you save time and money, as well as increase the chances that it will be a good fit the first time around.
Most counsellors are open to responding to emails or returning a phone call. You might want to describe your child’s situation and what they might be struggling with. You can ask questions like:
- What are your areas of expertise?
- Do you treat children who struggle with_________?
- What kind of treatment do you use?
- Do you offer individual or group therapy?
- Do you offer a sliding fee scale?
- Do you offer an “introductory” session to see if this is a good fit?
Make an appointment and see how it goes. If your child is young, you can ask about making an appointment on your own with the counsellor to get a feel for them. You know your child best and will likely know after a meeting if your child will do well with that particular counsellor. That saves taking your child to more than one “meet and greet” appointment.
Let your child know that the first couple of appointments are just to get to know each other. If it doesn’t feel right for you or your child, you can move on to trying a different counsellor.
Take your time finding a counsellor that connects well with your child. A positive connection between your child and the counsellor will make or break the success of counselling.Read Less
When your child could benefit from having services but there is a long waitlist, it can be very frustrating. Waiting for mental health or substance use services can be stressful.
During this challenging time, here are a few things you can do:
- Keep in touch with your care team. Ask them about the supports that are available while you wait, and how to get immediate help if there is an emergency. If you notice a change and your child is feeling worse or having more challenges, let your care provider know. Your child may need to be seen sooner. Also, make sure you have the most up-to-date information about referrals and wait list times. Follow up with your care provider or the service directly. When you know which waitlist you are on, you can call them and ask to be put on a cancellation list. If you can be flexible with timing, you may get in to see them sooner.
- Connect with our parent peer support workers at the Kelty Centre1 800 665 1822
email@example.com (FamilySmart® Parents in Residence). You can learn more here about the Parents in Residence that work at the Kelty Centre. They know what it’s like because they’ve been there too and can help things feel more manageable. They can share experiences, offer suggestions, and help you find resources and supports. You can also check to see if there is a Parent in Residence in your community.
- Learn and connect. Search for information and resources on our Kelty website to learn about your child’s mental health or substance use challenge or diagnosis. You can also connect and learn with other families in the online conversation series “In The Know” from FamilySmart®, with expert speakers on topics. Watch any topic from their library.
- Continue to explore other options while you wait. Look into other options such as private counselling (usually charge a fee) on the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors website. Ask your school to see what supports they have. Checkout places that offer walk-in counselling and support services. Services may be offered at places in your community such as neighbourhood houses, community centres, and family services. Contact us at the Kelty Centre for help finding options in your community.
- Focus on the basics of healthy living. No matter what mental health issue your child is struggling with, caring for the body and mind can really help. Find practical strategies here to help your family eat well, get enough sleep and physical activity too.
- Take care of yourself too! As parents, we often put all our energy into making sure that our children are doing ok and forget about ourselves. Give yourself permission to focus on your own self-care. Take advantage of times that you are away from your child to enjoy some deep breaths, a chat with a friend, a walk with your partner, etc. Even 5 minutes can go a long way in helping you feel recharged. By taking care of yourself, you are both helping yourself be the best caregiver you can be, and you are also teaching your children how to take care of themselves.
When your child is having a mental health emergency, it's important to get help right away.
It may be very stressful to take your child to the emergency room (ER). But, it can be the best way to keep your child safe. It might be an important part of getting the services and diagnosis your child needs, especially if mental health challenges are new for your child.
One important thing to remember is that the ER takes care of all kinds of emergencies. Their first priority is to treat life-threatening issues. Their focus will be on dealing with the immediate concern and safety of your child.
Here are a few tips and things to know about the visit:
In the Emergency Department:
- You will meet different health care providers. On arrival, a nurse will ask both of you some questions to see how quickly your child needs to see a doctor. Your child will be assigned a nurse and later assessed by a doctor. If needed, and if available, a psychiatrist might be included in your child’s care.
- Health care providers may talk to you and your child separately, depending on your child's age. Your child may choose to speak privately with the treatment team.
- Be prepared to answer questions. The staff will ask questions about your main concerns and what was happening that caused you to come to the ER. You and your child may find that questions can be uncomfortable and hard to answer. But, it is really important to answer honestly. The ER staff need this information. Don’t hold back on details. It is important to say how bad it really is, to get the help your child needs. This is the best place for your child to show their behaviour (upset, angry, withdrawn, etc.). So be truthful with the ER staff and let your child react naturally. This is not the time to want them on their best behaviour.
- Write things down. Sometimes it can be hard to remember all of the important details and communicate them to a nurse or doctor. If possible, write down what is going on ahead of time, or while you wait.
- Expect to wait in the ER. This can be really frustrating when you feel your child needs help now. It can even be tempting to leave. But remember, if you’re worried about your child’s safety, the ER is the best place to be, even if there’s a wait. If your child’s condition changes while waiting, tell the nursing staff. Sometimes there is a private area or room for patients with mental health concerns that is calmer and quiet.
- Bring things with you. Bring more than you think you will need to keep your child occupied and comfortable, if possible. Bring food, water and something for yourself as well. A phone charger is also a good idea, as well as a charger for any device your child may bring. Be prepared to stay for many hours. Also bring your child’s current medications.
- Upon arrival, indigenous families are encouraged to ask if there is an Indigenous Liaison Worker available. Many hospitals have an Indigenous Patient Liaison/Navigator who can advocate for you, and help connect you with cultural supports. For example, learn more about the Indigenous Patient Liaison's at BC Children's Hospital.
Admitted to Hospital or Going Home:
You can’t always know what the outcome of an ER visit will be. Your child may be admitted to the hospital, or they may be sent home.
To help you manage at home, the ER staff should work with you to develop plans. This includes reviewing the emergency visit and making a safety plan for what to do if your child needs immediate help again. They should also let you know about or refer you to services for ongoing support in your community.
- It’s okay to ask questions. If you are unsure about the follow-up plan or what happens next, ask ER staff to explain. It is important that you understand what is expected of you, like making appointments, filling prescriptions, and following up with services. Speak up while you are still in the hospital. Don’t let staff rush you out the door if you still have questions or don’t understand something. It may mean a longer wait for you, but ask to speak to them again if you feel it is needed.
- Ask what to do if your child needs help again. Make sure you have a safety plan before you leave the hospital. Ask for it if they have not made one before they discharge you. It needs to tell you what to do if a similar situation arises. For example, if you went to the ER because you were concerned about your child having suicidal thoughts, ask them what to do if your child’s suicidal thoughts get worse or continue.
- If details of the visit weren’t provided to you, you can ask for a written copy. Some details might include a list of medications, or referral information for other services.
- If ER staff spoke with your older child or youth without you in the room, ask them to go over what the plan is with you. Ask for your own copy of any referral information and phone numbers. Don’t rely on your child to pass on accurate information - this is overwhelming for them too. The staff may not discuss specifics, but should be able to give you a general plan. If your child is willing, they can give permission for any information to be shared with you.
If your child is admitted to hospital, please ask the staff for information about what happens next.Read Less