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Improving Access to Vital Youth Mental Health Services at the Local Level – What Can we Do TODAY?

Mental health is, without a doubt, one of the biggest concerns we have today when it comes to the overall health and well-being of our children. Unfortunately, it’s also consistently one of the least addressed. 

According to Dr. Karen Goldberg, a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, the primary reason for this oversight is money—as this is a complex issue that takes significant dollars to manage. That said, we now find ourselves managing the issue “in crisis,” rather than managing it proactively and preventatively. 

Listen to the Podcast, “The Kids Are Not Alright” Part II

The fact is, there are not enough child and adolescent psychiatrists in the country—and this absolutely trickles down to the local level. For many young people in need of mental health support, long wait times to get in the door, or trouble finding the proper care at all, are the norm. Unfortunately, this means that many of these kids are going untreated—or being insufficiently treated—for serious mental health conditions. 

Dr. Goldberg says that, as communities, we MUST do a better job of prioritizing the mental health of our children.  

Echoing that sentiment, Pediatrician Dr. Alan Mease says that we need to become better trained at dealing with some of the more common mental health issues that are affecting children today. 

Dr. Mease points out that, while more comprehensive training of pediatricians, child psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals at the local level is part of the solution, we must also work to better integrate behavioral health and mental health into primary care practices. 

According to a recent survey in Arkansas, pediatricians say that up to 50% of their practice involves seeing patients for issues that involve behavioral/mental health, so finding ways to better equip providers to effectively meet those needs is essential. 

So how can we achieve this?

According to Dr. Goldberg, creativity is the name of the game. One solution being implemented in many communities across the country, that is proving to be successful, is having child and adolescent psychiatrists act as consultants to pediatricians and other youth primary care providers. In Florida, for instance, there is a Pediatric Behavioral Health Hotline that gives primary care providers a highly-valuable consultative resource when they’re facing dilemmas in how to best treat a child with behavioral health issues. 

But let’s face it—implementing such programs takes time, money, and resources. What can we do TODAY to begin solving this critical issue?

Both Dr. Goldberg and Dr. Mease agree that Telehealth/Telepsychiatry is something that can be easily and effectively utilized across the board to improve access to care. This is especially true in the age of COVID-19, where the use of Telehealth platforms has seen tremendous acceleration. 

Something else that can be implemented TODAY at the local/community level is increased collaboration WITHIN the mental health system. From pediatricians and child/adolescent psychiatrists to psychologists, mental health counselors, and other practitioners, Dr. Goldberg says that the collective industry needs to do a better job of coordinating and integrating their services, and not operating in silos. 

Working together—1) better training, 2) use of Telepsychiatry/Telehealth, and 3) increased, system-wide collaboration at the local level are a great place to start for improving access to vital youth mental health resources TODAY in communities nationwide.

Listen to the Podcast, “The Kids Are Not Alright” Part II


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