As demand for youth psychiatry rose, promise in ‘pediatric mental health care access programs’ emerged

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Referrals from primary care providers (PCPs) to Pediatric Mental Health Care Access (PMHCA) programs increased to include more complex mental health issues, particularly those related to mood and anxiety, during the pandemic, according to a new study published online today in Psychiatric services. These trends underline the importance of these programs to support the growing need for mental health care for children.

PMHCA programs provide training, consultation, and resource referral assistance to primary care providers (PCPs), increasing children’s access to mental health care. The US Health Resources and Services Administration began supporting PMHCAs in 2018 and expanded efforts in 2021. PMHCA programs now reach 40 states, the District of Columbia, the US Virgin Islands and the Republic of Palau, the Chickasaw Nations, and the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. The program is part of an effort to build staff capacity and make early identification, diagnosis, treatment and referral of behavioral disorders a regular part of child health care.

The study, led by Amie F. Bettencourt, Ph.D. with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, compared trends in services provided by two PMHCA programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers looked at more than 2,840 contacts between PCPs and PMHCAs in Maryland and Mississippi from January 2019 to March 2021.

Both programs saw a significant increase in calls during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to before COVID-19. Specifically, an increase was seen in the number of calls for patients with multiple diagnoses (Maryland, 20% to 37%; Mississippi, 0% to 11%) and patients with mood and anxiety symptoms. The authors note that “the somewhat mixed findings of changes in the characteristics of mental health problems highlight regional variability in the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of the population,” and emphasize the importance of local responses to mental health needs that are provided by PMHCA programs.

This study “provides evidence supporting the role of PMHCA programs in supporting the identification and management of pediatric mental health needs by PCPs and in connecting children to mental health services,” the authors conclude. “As an innovative workforce development and mental health care model capable of bridging the mental health gap, PMHCA programs are poised to respond to the ongoing and likely increasing mental health needs of children associated with with the global pandemic.”

Children with mental health problems are at increased risk of mental disorders as adults

More information:
Amie F. Bettencourt et al, Trends in Mental Health Problems Reported to Two Pediatric Mental Health Access Programs During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Psychiatric Services (2021). DOI: 10.1176/appi.ps.202100479 Provided by American Psychiatric Association

Quote: As demand for adolescent psychiatry grew, promise emerged in ‘paediatric mental health access programs’ (2021, Nov. 29), retrieved Nov. 29, 2021 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-11-demand-youth- psychiatry-rose-pediatric.html

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