If your child is showing signs of mental distress, your first instinct might be to make an appointment with a pediatric psychiatrist. That’s a smart move. But what if there are no such experts in your community?
When it comes to access to mental healthcare, many children and teens in the United States are isolated. About 70 percent of counties do not have a child psychiatrist, according to a study in Pediatrics.
The study also found that many child psychiatrists are clustered in high-income counties. Kids in low-income communities, on the other hand, are less likely to have access to a local psychiatrist who specializes in treating youth.
The consequences of this shortage can be severe. Previous research has shown that about half of American children and teens with a treatable mental health condition do not receive professional care. That means more than 3.8 million kids don’t get the help they need for depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or other mental health conditions.
Left untreated, mental health conditions can cause difficulties at home and school. And they can lead to complications, such as hospitalization for a mental health crisis or increased risk of suicide.
“Early intervention is something that is always stressed,” says Mark A. Stein, PhD, a psychologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital and a Genomind Scientific Advisory Board member. “There’s a cumulative impact of having a psychiatric disorder, and it’s usually easier to treat when things are first developing.”
The longer it takes for a child to receive proper mental healthcare, the more challenging their condition may be to manage, he adds.
If your child needs mental health help and there’s no child psychiatrist in your county, don’t give up. Try these strategies to tap into resources that may be available to you.
1. Ask Your Child’s Pediatrician
Don’t be shy about opening up to your child’s pediatrician or primary care doctor about any emotional or behavioral changes you’ve observed. Many pediatricians are trained to identify mental health and developmental disorders. In some cases, they may even be able to treat certain conditions.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, has guidelines in place to help pediatricians screen and begin treatment for depression in patients between 10 and 21 years old.
If your child’s pediatrician isn’t the right person to diagnose or treat your child, they can likely steer you toward a mental health clinician. In some cases, this may be a psychiatrist (MD or DO). But in other cases, this may be another type of clinician, such as a psychologist (PhD or PsyD) or nurse practitioner (APRN or NP).
2. Reach Out to Your Child’s School
Schools can play an important role in supporting your child’s mental health, but available services can vary widely. For example, some schools may have innovative programs that bring trained mental health professionals into an educational setting, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
But many schools often do not have the resources to identify and adequately treat mental health conditions, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports.
What you can do: Ask about any available resources. Even if a school does not have special mental health programs, a school counselor may be able to point you toward clinicians in your area who can give your child one-on-one care.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, keep in mind that school—whether remote or in person—can be a source of stress for your kid or teen. In addition to mental health support from a clinician, your child may also need academic help to stay on track with assignments. Discuss any issues with your child’s teacher. Plus, check out these tips to support your child’s mental health during COVID-19.
3. Consult These Online Resources
If you have health insurance, check their website or call their customer service number for any mental or behavioral health clinicians in your network. Also ask about any programs that are available to you or your child. An employee assistance program (EAP), for example, can help you navigate your healthcare options.
Need more help? Try these online provider finders from:
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
- American Psychological Association
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
4. Consider Telemedicine
As a result of COVID-19, many mental health clinicians have added or increased telemedicine services, which allow patients to have visits over video or phone. For kids and teens in counties without child psychiatrists, this may mean access to services that weren’t available before. Learn more in our guide to telemedicine for mental health.
If your child’s clinician recommends mental health medication, ask if pharmacogenetic (PGx) testing can help personalize their medication plan.
Genomind® Professional PGx Express™ looks at 24 genes related to mental health treatment. It provides guidance across 10+ mental health conditions and 130+ medications to help clinicians determine:
- Which medications will likely be the most effective
- Which medications may have side effects
- How you metabolize medications for personalized dosing guidance
The Genomind PGx test can be done at a clinician’s office—or from the comfort of your home. It requires a prescription, and Genomind can help connect you with a verified Genomind provider near you. Get started by filling out this form.
5. Get Emergency Help
If your child talks about wanting to die, expresses feelings of hopelessness, or is looking for access to weapons or drugs, take these warning signs seriously. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Call 911 immediately if you are concerned that your child may harm themselves. You or your child can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline anytime at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Lifeline is free, and calls are confidential.
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