As many of us already know, our nation’s youth is in a mental health crisis, as recently reported by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.
This crisis has been developing for years. The pandemic did not cause a mental health crisis among our nation’s children but exasperated it while exposing challenges that existed prior to adding COVID-19 to the mix.
The challenge to address and improve children’s mental health is urgent. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 in 5 U.S. children has a diagnosable mental health disorder. For our nation’s teens this has been significant. While factors like teen sex and school bullying are down and LGBTQ acceptance is up, feelings of teen sadness and hopelessness have increased, as have eating disorders and teen suicides.
Headlines also tell the story, like this eye-opening headline from U.S. News & World Report in March: “Mental Health of America’s Children Only Getting Worse.”
As a physician, what can you do to help your young patients in this time of great need?
How to help address and improve children’s mental health
Primary care physicians (PCPs) are in the unique position to promote mental health and offer both primary and secondary prevention to patients and their families. Your role at the front lines of children’s healthcare gives you the “primary care advantage,” which includes developing a trusting relationship with patients and their families, promoting social-emotional health with every contact. Identifying mental health problems through education and anticipatory guidance and intervening in a timely way if and when risks, concerns, or symptoms emerge.
We have the resource for you: the Virginia Mental Health Access Program
Virginia is making it easier for PCPs to support children and adolescent mental health. When a child is struggling with their mental health, many parents seek help from their PCP. Additionally, this close, regular interaction provides ideal opportunities for identifying mental health issues.
When you need support, to help your pediatric patients, look to the Virginia Mental Health Access Program (VMAP), a statewide initiative focused on helping healthcare providers take better care of children and adolescents with mental health conditions through provider education and increasing access to child psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and care navigators. VMAP services are available for children through age 21 (up to the 22nd birthday).
VMAP ensures more children have access to providers who have experience in screening, diagnosing, managing, and treating mental health. It provides tools and training to the front-line PCPs treating them, including pediatricians, family medicine physicians, nurse practitioners, and PAs. It also gives Virginia PCPs access to consultations with child and adolescent psychiatrists, and licensed mental health professionals such as psychologists and social workers, as well as care navigation services to support with resource and referral needs.
VMAP is a key tool for Virginia’s primary care providers. Learn more about the ways in which it can support you and your patients today!
Ryan Fulton, DO, FAAP