Staff member Carly Gunn is one of a team of clinicians available to support patients of the adolescent psychiatric unit in Kelowna.

Staff member Carly Gunn is one of a team of clinicians available to support patients of the adolescent psychiatric unit in Kelowna.

Unit helps struggling adolescents

Interior Health’s adolescent psychiatric unit is available at Kelowna General Hospital

Life as a teen can be tough, but for those at Interior Health’s adolescent psychiatric unit (APU), managing home life, school work, and relationships is an overwhelming struggle. They have complex mental disorders. Some are house bound due to anxiety, while others are at risk of suicide or self-harm. Some are out of contact with reality or have severe mood disorders.

“Youth with mental health challenges need positive support and encouragement to allow them to learn and flourish,” said Health Minister Terry Lake.

“Through specialized programs like the adolescent psychiatric unit at Interior Health, we’re giving youth a helping hand when it’s needed the most.”

Now an online video is available to see the space in advance or for those with questions about the APU, which is one of five tertiary mental health programs for young people in B.C.

“I had a hard time opening up about depression and anxiety,” said 20-year old Tyler Exner, who spent four weeks at the APU when he was 16. “The nurses, staff and doctors were incredible there. Everything started to come together. It was probably one of the most memorable moments through my mental health recovery.”

Since opening in 2005, the eight-bed unit at Kelowna General Hospital has served those aged 12 to 17 within Interior Health. In B.C., about one in seven young people will have some form of mental disorder at any given time. About 70 per cent of mental disorders surface before age 18.

“The program is made up of committed and passionate staff and physicians who really care about supporting positive mental health for youth. While a youth is on the unit, they, and their family, work with child psychiatrists, a psychologist, an occupational therapist, social workers, registered nurses, registered psychiatric nurses, and youth care counsellors who specialize in caring for youth,” said Colleen McEwan, APU manager.

The unit is designed to be youth and family friendly. The light-filled bedrooms have views of Okanagan Lake.

There are activities including outings, art, video games, books, basketball, and foosball. The space also includes a classroom, where a teacher and support worker help youth continue their school studies. There are family meeting rooms, a secure quiet room, and an outdoor patio.

“These are youth with complicated mental health problems. They are here for assessment and diagnostic clarification. We spend time observing and building trust,” said Dr. Michael Ocana, medical director and one of two psychiatrists with the APU.

“We use a collaborative problem-solving approach. It takes time and resources, but it allows us to work together in the face of what appear to be behaviour problems to find mutual solution.”

Many have long-standing problems that are not expected to resolve completely during their time in the APU.

“An important part of the program is working closely with community partners in child and youth mental health, and referring hospitals and physicians to support the youth and family when they return home,” said McEwan.

To learn more and to watch the new online video, visit the APU page at

The APU and the video were made possible thanks to donations through the KGH Foundation. In addition, young volunteers from Cottonwoods Care Centre provided their acting skills for the video, to protect patient privacy.


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