Sunnybrook helps Families Navigate Mental Health system

teenmhSunnybrook’s Family Navigation Project:

guiding families through the labyrinth of mental health services


Fran C. has become the face of the Sunnybrook Family Navigation project. Her story begins about five years ago when she discovered that her daughter Sarah was having serious problems with drug addiction – at one point she found her with vital signs absent. To help Sarah, Fran tried every avenue in the Canadian mental health system: detox programs; emergency rooms; narcotics anonymous programs; psychologists; hospital treatment. It became a revolving door: “In the mental health unit they’d say her primary problem was addiction and say she needs to go to rehab; and in rehab they’d say she needs to deal with the underlying mental health issues”.

Eventually Fran hired a U.S. consultant who completed a full assessment, was familiar with the mental health landscape and directed her to a wilderness therapy program (in Utah) that she believes saved her daughter.

Fran’s daughter did relapse but finally decided “she wanted to recover her self-esteem she’d found in therapy”. She has completely recovered and will be entering university this fall.

Fran and other parents with similar experiences with the mental health system worked with Dr. Anthony Leavitt of Sunnybrook Hospital to create the Family Navigation Project – a program designed for families who don’t how to access the mental health care system, can’t find the right match and don’t know how to evaluate mental health resources.

Dr. Leavitt characterizes the mental health system as offering a “dizzying array of children’s agencies and treatment centres and a dire lack of child psychiatrists…leaves parents and their children floundering, not knowing where to turn”.

The Family Navigation Project will provide families access to navigators trained to help families navigate the mental health system. According to Dr. Leavitt the Navigation Project will be organized and set up to “hold families’ hands” from diagnosis, to finding outpatient and/or residential treatment facilities, ongoing psychiatric care and follow-up.

Target group – the Family Navigation Project is targeted at families with youths 14 to 24 years who are “struggling with complex mental health and/or addiction problems”.

The Family Navigation Project will be fully operational in June of this year (2014) – more information can be found at

The Family Navigation Project is, however, currently active and accessible as follows:

By Ruth Lukaweski 2014
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