New mental health program launches in central Alberta to help teens

Mary Pahlke photo

RED DEER – Central Alberta youth will benefit from additional supports being offered through the launch of a new Alberta Health Services (AHS) program. 
Step Up Step Down is a program for youth aged 13 to 17 who have significant mental health challenges, and who already receive care from a clinician but need additional support. The program includes a high level of caregiver participation to help youth succeed at home, in school and in their communities.  
Step Up Step Down includes a five-bed, full-time, live-in treatment program for youth, with the involvement of family/caregivers and the guidance of a multidisciplinary team, including nursing staff, a social worker, psychologist, occupational therapist, recreational therapist and family therapist.  
“Supporting the mental health of children and youth is investing in our province’s future, particularly during COVID-19 given the serious impact the pandemic has had on Albertans,” said Jason Luan, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.

“The new Step Up Step Down program is a great example of multi-disciplinary teams coming together to help teens and their families address mental health issues and become healthy and well. I thank AHS for their continued dedication and expertise in supporting Albertans’ mental health.”  
Step Up Step Down also includes an intensive outpatient program, designed to offer mental health programming, treatment planning and goal development to youth and their family/caregivers, supplementing the mental healthcare they are already receiving. Group sessions, family therapy, school supports, connection to community services, and recreational therapy augment the care of program participants.  
“We are thrilled to offer this service to teens in our community who are struggling with mental health concerns,” said Sherie Allen, Senior Operating Officer for Addiction and Mental Health in AHS Central Zone.

“It’s about offering appropriate care to our teens. Some of our clients need a high level of hospital-based care, while others require a lower level of care through the help of community addiction and mental health clinics. Step Up Step Down provides a level of care in between, and hopefully prevents youth from requiring a hospital stay.” 
Youth are referred to the program by their AHS mental health clinician. The program for both live-in and outpatient tracks runs for approximately 12 weeks for most clients. Approximately 80 youth are expected to be helped annually.   
“These new supports will provide opportunities for youth to trust, grow and gain confidence within their families, schools and communities,” said Alan Carter, a Red Deer-based member of AHS’ Provincial Advisory Council on Addiction & Mental Health. “As a parent and PAC member, I can say that we need to love our children the way they are, not the way we want them to be. This positive, unconditional support and family/caregiver-centred approach will reduce the stigma attached to mental health issues and promote healing and growth.”  
There are similar, non-profit programs across the province, including Wood’s Homes in Calgary, Lethbridge, Strathmore and Fort McMurray, which offer crisis counselling, short-term stays, services for parents and families and live-in treatment. CASA Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health, which operates in the Edmonton Zone, offers community-based mental health programming with a family-centred focus. 
“We know the involvement of family or other caregivers is key to a youth’s wellness and success,” said Amy Cote, Director, Red Deer Children & Youth in AHS Central Zone, Addiction & Mental Health. “That’s why we require the participation of the significant people in a youth’s life, and increase supports to all so we can hopefully get these teens working with, and connected to, the people and services they need most.” 
Twenty-two additional staff have been hired to support this new program. The program will receive $2.5 million annually through AHS Continuing Care Capacity Funding. The fund aims to help people be as healthy, well and independent as they can be in their homes and communities, surrounded by their support systems – reducing the need for expensive medical interventions and reducing overall healthcare costs.