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Shelley Starkey

Behavioral Health Policy and Practice Intern

Congressional Briefing Highlights Children’s Mental Health

May 11, 2017 | Children and Youth | Comments
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On Monday, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), Mental Health America, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health partnered to host a Congressional briefing titled, “The Benefits of Collaborative Care for Children’s Mental Health.” Kicking off National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, providers, officials, and family members discussed the prevalence of childhood mental illness, the lack of resources to address these illnesses, the importance of collaborative care, and potential solutions to the problem.

Mental Illness is Common and Undertreated in Children and Adolescents

Dr. Gregory Fitz, the President of the AACAP, began the day’s conversation by outlining the prevalence of pediatric mental illness. He said that while 21% of children and adolescents suffer at least minimal impairment from a diagnosable mental or addictive disorder and 6-9% suffer significant impairment, almost 80% of them do not receive treatment. That equates to between 3.6 and 5.3 million youth with serious mental disorders lacking treatment, many of whom either live in rural areas, are uninsured, or are minorities. With the current number of child and adolescent psychologists in the workforce, each provider would have to see around 800 children to meet this need.

The Role of Collaborative Care in Addressing Pediatric Mental Health

Collaborative care is an approach to providing medical treatment that encourages different types of providers to communicate across settings to offer their patients well-rounded care. Often, children and adolescents with mental illness require a slew of different providers and specialists to address all their mental and physical health needs. If providers are not willing to work together, their lack of context for each individual issue may lead them to inappropriate treatment and prescription conclusions. However, when primary care physicians can collaborate with and seek advice from specialists while screening for pediatric mental illness, the number of patients who receive much-needed care drastically increases. Compared to typical care models, collaborative care almost doubles mental health treatment initiation rates and increases treatment completion rates seven-fold.

The Way Forward: Policy and Action

Dr. Lee Beers, from the Child Health Advocacy Institute and the George Washington University, joined Dr. Fitz in stressing the importance of starting mental health treatment in primary care settings. The doctors emphasized the need for mandating collaborative care and providing supports for doctors to connect with one another by funding evidence-based models across the nation. Representatives Grace Napolitano (CA-32) and John Katko (NY-24) joined the panel discussion and assured those in the room that they were making these issues a top priority. Rep. Napolitano highlighted the Mental Health in Schools Act, a bill she will soon be introducing to Congress, which will provide grants for states to bolster comprehensive school-based mental health programs for their students.