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Government of B.C. awards $540,000 to Canucks Autism Network in support of mental health initiatives for Autistic individuals

October 10, 2023

Vancouver, BC – Canucks Autism Network (CAN) is thrilled to announce that the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions (“the Province”) has awarded CAN a one-time grant of $540,000 to support solutions that address mental health barriers faced by Autistic youth and adults in British Columbia.

Enhancing supports for individuals living with mental-health and substance-use needs is an integral part of A Pathway to Hope, the B.C. government’s roadmap for building mental health and addictions care more available in our health care system, for everyone in British Columbia. a comprehensive system of mental-health and addictions care for British Columbians.

“We are proud of the positive change we have created in the area of mental health supports for Autistic youth and adults, but there is so much more work to be done,” said CAN CEO Britt Andersen. “This crucial funding will allow us to begin to address the enormous need in the community.”

“When Autistic people reach out, they need resources that meet their unique needs,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addiction. “Investing in organizations like the Canucks Autism Network reflects our government’s commitment to addressing the gaps in support that Autistic people and their families face, so we can build a stronger, more inclusive future for everyone in B.C.”

In line with the Government ‘s Pathway to Hope priority actions, CAN has identified various steps that can be immediately actioned to address mental health barriers faced by Autistic individuals.

CAN completed extensive research and consultation with clinical professionals and the Autistic community to better understand the unmet need and major obstacles facing Autistic individuals.

Critical findings include:

  • Autistic youth and adults are seven times more likely to attempt suicide and are at a greater risk of substance misuse and addiction than non-Autistic people
  • 66% of newly diagnosed Autistic adults have reported feeling suicidal
  • Roughly 70% of Autistic people experience at least one co-occurring mental health issue

Major barriers that Autistic individuals face when attempting to access mental health services include cost, ineligibility due to their diagnosis, a lack of autism-informed clinicians, and long waitlists for those with autism training.

CAN has already begun addressing the mental health challenges faced by Autistic youth and adults by introducing a stream of Mental Health & Wellness programs that encourage participants to explore their own mental health, improve their overall wellness, and connect with their community.

Programs and workshops have been developed and led by a combination of CAN staff, community partners, clinicians, self-advocates, and facilitators with lived experience and focus on areas such as emotional expression, social connection, peer support, healthy sleeping, healthy boundaries, healthy eating, and healthy relationships and sexuality.

According to Kayla Tellier, CAN Women’s Peer Support Group Facilitator, being able to talk to someone with lived experience can make all the difference.

“Peer groups like CAN’s Women’s Group help Autistic people feel more comfortable sharing and connecting because the group is led by someone who may have personally experienced some of their struggles and will listen without judgment,” explains Kayla. “Hearing that you aren’t the only one who going through something can be really helpful, especially when other Neurodivergent individuals share strategies that worked for them. It can be a lot more helpful than being given strategies meant for a typical individual.”

CAN has also taken steps to begin to address barriers Autistic youth and adults face in the community and workplace when attempting to access mental health supports.

The following initiatives are already underway or in development:

  • Partnering with Foundry BC to develop training for Foundry frontline staff and Peer Support Workers around strategies and best practices for supporting Autistic youth
  • Developing online modules such as Supporting Autistic Mental Health in the Workplace designed to help employers understand the needs of Autistic employees, and practical supports to increase mental health in the workplace
  • Providing increased Suicide Intervention and Mental Health training to frontline CAN Youth and Adult Staff
  • Delivering live training to the BC Crisis Centre to equip staff with the necessary skills and strategies to support Autistic youth and adults in crisis situations

“The Crisis Centre of BC worked with Canucks Autism Network to tailor a workshop for our training/education and distress services teams,” shared Lu Ripley, Director, Community Learning & Engagement. “Our staff found the session to be beneficial, relevant, and practical. Staff have readily applied the knowledge and skills gained to their work to help better meet the needs of attendees and/or callers on the autism spectrum.”

The funding will enable CAN to make an even greater impact through the following initiatives:

  • Expansion of the delivery and development of Autism Informed Mental Health Training for Mental Health Workers in the community
  • Creation of Autism Informed Crisis Response Resources and more training in the community
  • Increase in offerings for youth and adults in need of 1:1 mental health supports
  • Expansion of Introductory Wellness Programs and Peer-Led Support Groups

“We are proud of the positive change we have created in the area of mental health supports for Autistic youth and adults, but there is so much more work to be done,” said CAN CEO Britt Andersen. “This crucial funding will allow us to begin to address the enormous need in the community.”

For more information about CAN’s current portfolio of mental health and wellness offerings, please visit canucksautism.ca/mentalhealth.


For media inquiries: Lindsay Petrie, CAN Director of Marketing & Communications
[email protected]