Clinic facilities

The Montreal Children’s Hospital launches a mental health crisis clinic for adolescents

The Montreal Children’s Hospital is opening a new center on Monday to provide specialized care for teenagers who have considered or attempted suicide.

The SPOT Montreal clinic will help teenagers aged 12 to 18 in a suicidal crisis by offering them and their families up to 12 weeks of intensive individualized therapy.

“These are teenagers who would have come to our emergency room, [who] may not need to be admitted, but need someone to give them therapeutic services quickly,” said Maia Aziz, Chief Paramedic Services at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

The specialized facility, which will be one of the largest of its kind in Canada, will be able to treat 500 patients in the first year and 1,000 patients per year thereafter.

Staffed by 10 full-time clinicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers and occupational therapists, the clinic will aim to see patients within 72 hours of being referred by emergency room doctors.

The idea, Aziz said, is to provide teens with the help they need “when they’re in crisis and not keep them waiting in distress with their families.”

In addition to individual therapy, the clinic will also offer family and group therapy, as well as help with life skills, such as conflict resolution, emotional regulation, and healthy use of social media. Since this is an outpatient service, teenagers will also be able to continue going to school while continuing with the therapy program.

With the help of a psychoeducator, adolescents will also have access to “less traditional” therapeutic activities, such as nature walks and sports, said Dr. Martin Gignac, head of child psychiatry and teenager at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

Consistency is key

After 12 weeks, the clinic will ensure continuity of patients by linking them to community mental health services. Outside of this program, the current average wait time for these services is six months.

This transition and stability is essential, according to Simone Aslan, a 20-year-old arts student who was admitted to the Montreal Children’s Hospital at the age of 15.

Simone Aslan, a former patient at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, said constant access to therapy and psychiatric care was essential for them. (Radio-Canada News)

“A big part of why I’m here the way I am is that I’ve had access, and continue to have access, to consistent therapy and consistent psychiatric care,” Aslan said. “It’s not something that everyone has access to.”

Aslan said the process of getting a family doctor and a referral to a psychologist can be an additional hurdle, in addition to the difficulty teens have in simply expressing that they need help.

“My parents, they knew I wasn’t doing too well, but I remember it was very intimidating to tell a loved one,” they said.

Aslan said finally being taken care of in hospital was a turning point.

“[It was] The first time, I felt like I had the right to… feel what I felt. I was in a space that gave me space and time to think,” they said.

While Aslan still struggles with mental health issues, they say they have learned tools to help them cope.

Longer wait times during the pandemic

According to a report by the Institut de recherche en santé publique du Québec (INSPQ), the number of adolescents treated in the emergency room following a suicide attempt increased by 23% between 2020 and 2021.

“The need is huge. We’ve seen the numbers skyrocket,” Aziz said.

The Montreal Children’s Hospital Emergency Department alone has seen a 35% increase in the number of teens seeking help for psychosocial and psychological issues.

Dr. Gignac said 20% of those patients returned to hospital within a month, due to long wait times for community mental health resources.

“We realized that the resources we have are not sufficient to meet the needs of adolescents who come in distress and in crisis to the emergency room,” he said.

He said some patients even end up being admitted to other medical wards, instead of the hospital’s psychiatric wards, due to a lack of beds.

Aslan said that was the case even five years ago when they were initially admitted to maternity as there was no room in psychiatry.

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While Gignac said demand for youth mental health services has grown steadily over the past two decades, the pandemic has been a “precipitant.”

Gignac said vulnerable teens who struggled with mental health issues may have coped with the help of extracurricular activities, such as arts and sports, but lost access to them during the pandemic.

“It was… a major stress for them, beyond the fact that just going through the pandemic is very stressful,” he said.

The Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation raised $12 million over a six-month period to cover the clinic’s construction costs, as well as operating costs for the next 10 years.

If you’re having trouble getting by, here are some resources. If you’re in crisis or know someone who is, here’s where to get help:

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only)

  • In Quebec (French): Quebec Association for the Prevention of Suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)

  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), live chat at

  • Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis center