July 13, 2018
by Kimberly Lucey
The first doctor a parent of a child with a mental health issue is likely to turn to is the one they're most comfortable with: their pediatrician. However, those pediatricians may not be entirely comfortable handling mental health issues.
A new study by the medical journal Families, Systems & Health surveyed more than 120 pediatric primary care providers from 41 states. Their responders estimate 28% of their patients have mental health concerns. But, nearly 30% say they're uncomfortable treating those concerns. And, 54% describe mental health care resources in their communities as inadequate.
It's an encounter that's very likely to occur. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates 1 in 5 children ages 13-18 are living with a mental health condition. They say the average delay between the onset of symptoms and intervention is 8-10 years. In fact, their #1 recommendation for steps parents can take, is talking with their pediatrician.
The journal study found pediatricians are more likely than mental health specialists to manage mental health concerns in children. But, 24% of responding pediatricians reported no communication at all with mental health specialists about shared patients. They say barriers to that communication included systems factors, an inconsistent, or slow response from specialists, and the perception that those specialists are unwilling to communicate.
It raises the question, would pediatricians be more comfortable treating mental health issues in children if they had more guidance and communication with specialists? The journal concluded in it's findings that pediatricians may find communication with mental health specialists to be less systematic than it should be.
So, how to fix it? Researchers suggest mental health specialists should work on prioritizing interaction with pediatricians, and developing systematic ways for ongoing communication on shared patients. All to make sure the youngest mental health patients are getting the care they need right from the start.
About the Author
Kim Lucey is a freelance journalist with more than a decade of experience in the field. Her career has included coverage of big breaking news events like the Sandy Hook school shooting, lockdown in Watertown, MA following the Boston marathon bombings, and Superstorm Sandy. Her in-depth reports have garnered awards, including a focus on treating mental health issues in children. Currently, she is a reporter at a television station covering the news across the Greater Boston Area with an appreciation for fact-finding and storytelling. Follow Kim on Facebook and Twitter.