A new resource centre to support the mental health of local young people could be up and running within a year, local officials say.
The Access Open Minds centre would be a central hub for youth in crisis and provide medical referrals, housing support and job and training opportunities for residents age 11 to 25, said Paula Reaume-Zimmer, vice president of addictions and mental health at Bluewater Health.
“The intention is to improve access and to make sure there’s appropriate care,” she told a news conference last week.
To kick-start the initiative, the Mike Weir Foundation has pledged matching funds of up to $200,000 for every dollar raised, said spokesperson Jim Weir.
“We have to do something to try to help, no matter what it is,” he said, adding his brother and pro golfer Mike Weir is well aware of the crisis in youth mental health in the region.
The project has the backing of the Bluewater Health Foundation, Canadian Mental Health Association and St. Clair Child and Youth.
It’s expected to cost $500,000 a year to operate, on top of estimated government funding and donations, Reaume-Zimmer said.
Access Open Minds has 14 service sites in Canada with the closest and only other Ontario location in Chatham. Its objective is to provide youth with the right care, at the right time, in the right place.
Once a local location site is determined, the centre will have an open, youth-friendly design to provide quick access to treatment from existing agencies and resources in the community.
“We don’t want it tucked away… we want it front and centre. We want people to feel comfortable walking into the space,” Reaume-Zimmer said.
The emergency department at Bluewater Health is operating at 104% capacity and last year witnessed a 34% increase in youth mental health visits, she said.
One in four youth seek help for mental health, and 33,000 Ontarians aged 25 and younger tried to take their own lives last year, she added.
The Mike Weir Foundation has already contributed more than $7 million since 2004 to support the physical, emotional and educational welfare of children, Jim Weir said.
Foundation recipients have included the Children’s Miracle Network, the Autism Society, Sarnia Minor Athletics Association, Dow Centre for Youth, and St. Clair Child and Youth.
Donations to support the new youth services centre can be made online at mikeweir.com.
A fall golfing fundraiser is also in the works, Weir confirmed.