In this article we have provided a perspective on the importance and value of youth mental health services for society and argued that advancing youth mental health services should be the number one priority of health services in Canada. Using the age period of 12-25 years for defining youth, we have provided justification for our position based on scientific evidence derived from clinical, epidemiological and neurodevelopmental studies. We have highlighted the early onset of most mental disorders and substance abuse as well as their persistence into later adulthood, the long delays experienced by most help seekers and the consequence of such delays for young people and for society in general. We have also provided a brief review of the current gross inadequacies in access and quality of care available in Canada. We have argued for the need for a different conceptual framework of youth mental disorders as well as for a transformation of the way services are provided in order not only to reduce the unmet needs but also to allow a more meaningful exploration of the nature of such problems presenting in youth and the best way to treat them. We have offered some ideas based on previous work completed in this field as well as current initiatives in Canada and elsewhere. Any transformation of youth mental health services in Canada must take into consideration the significant geographic, cultural and political diversity across the provinces, territories and indigenous peoples across this country.
Keywords: access to care; age of onset; barriers to treatment; child and adolescent psychiatry; community mental health services; comorbidity; health care policy; health care utilization; health services research; mental health services.