A recent U.S. News & World Report story asked “Why are Half of U.S. Kids With Mental Health Issues Not Getting Treatment?” It's nothing new. A version of that story has been written repeatedly over the years by news outlets large and small.
U.S. News cited a study from the University of New Hampshire that came to a very familiar conclusion, particularly for those who work in mental health — there aren’t enough people trained to provide the help that children need.
Instead of just becoming frustrated by what some suggest is a nation not having its funding priorities in order, Lisa Durette, an assistant professor of medicine at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV and a UNLV Medicine child and adolescent psychiatrist, continues to work at solving the problem in a state that has long been last in the nation in providing mental health services to youth.
In 2012 Durette opened a private psychiatric center, the Healthy Minds outpatient treatment facility, with her husband and a friend. A year later she founded the two-year fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine.
Now she’s helping direct a team of people composed from the school's Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship, Chicanos por la Causa, and the Center for Community Solutions.
The program is the grant-supported Pediatric Access Line, which provides a number for physicians or other primary care providers to call when troubled youth come into their offices. It's similar to other programs in Massachusetts and Washington state.
“We know there is a giant shortage of child psychiatrists and this is a way to provide more access,” Durette said. “This program also helps us deal with stigma problems. Many parents are reluctant to take their children to a mental health professional. This way they can keep their child in the primary care home and still get the mental health help their child needs. It’s a project that really works.”
Offering Immediate Response to Patients
There are 183 doctors now enrolled in the program that began last fall and has seen doctors call for assistance with a variety of issues, including advice for what to do with a depressed young patient who’s engaged in self-injurious behavior. Another consultation with a doctor dealt with what to do with a 4-year-old who has been kicked out of several preschools for behavior issues.
Staff members consult with the doctor for about half an hour to discuss a treatment plan while the patient is still at the doctor’s office.
“We talk through the case on the phone with the primary doctor like a traditional curbside consult,’” Durette said. “So far, the uptake on the project has been quite positive. We’re helping support kids and clinicians in all areas of the state, keeping kids out of the ER/urgent care by providing consultative support, and helping enhance the clinical competency of the primary care doctors in addressing mild to moderate child mental health issues.”