Thanks to $2.7 million in recent grants, the Indiana University School of Medicine’s Indiana Behavioral Health Access Program for Youth will be able to help more children and families facing mental health challenges.
April Toler, executive director of communications for the office of the vice president for research, said known as Be Happy, the child psychiatry access program for pediatric primary care providers is available statewide and is crucial right now as mental health issues continue to skyrocket.
She said before COVID-19, mental health challenges were the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people with up to one in five children ages three to 17 in the United States having a mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral disorder, according to the U.S. surgeon general.
“From 2009 to 2019, the share of high school students who reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 40% to more than one in three students,” Toler said. “Suicidal behaviors among high school students also increased during the decade preceding COVID-19 with 19% seriously considering attempting suicide, a 36% increase from 2009 to 2019, and about 16% having made a suicide plan in the prior year, a 44% increase from 2009 to 2019.”
Rachel Yoder is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the IU School of Medicine in Indianapolis.
”Primary care providers and support systems in primary care, including pediatricians, family medicine physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, social workers, etc., are generally the first line access point for mental health concerns for children and adolescents,” Yoder said.
She said primary care physicians often do not feel comfortable providing mental health care on their own but generally feel comfortable providing this when they have some expert guidance.
“When they do not have guidance, PCPs are left to just refer patients to mental health care,” Yoder said. “However, in general and worsening since the pandemic, there are simply not enough child mental health providers (psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists) to meet this need, and families are left on long wait lists or without care.”
She said Be Happy is a phone consultation program that works to support PCPs in assessing and providing initial and immediate mental health care for these patients.
“PCPs can call Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and immediately (or at a preferred time) consult with a child and adolescent psychiatrist and/or psychologist to discuss best next steps for mental health care for their patients,” Yoder said.
“They can also get information about local referral options for therapy and mental health care,” she said. “With this new funding, we are also starting a monthly free mental health care education course for anyone caring for children within the state of Indiana.”
Yoder said while there seems to be some centers for care, like Centerstone, she can’t tell whether there are child psychiatrists available within these programs.
“It seems that Jackson County is like the rest of the state in that mental health care for children and adolescents is not easily accessible,” she said. “With Be Happy, Jackson County PCPs can call in and receive immediate evidence-based guidance directly from child psychiatrists and psychologists to provide mental health care within their offices.”
Yoder said this makes mental health care more easily accessible to families who are often more comfortable seeing their PCP.
PCPs can find out more information and enroll through the website, medicine.iu.edu/psychiatry/clinical-care/behavioral-health.
Yoder co-directs the Indiana Behavioral Health Access Program for Youth (Be Happy), which was recently funded through the American Rescue Plan Act for the next five years, with Zack Adams, assistant professor of psychiatry at the IU School of Medicine.
Adams said anecdotally, he is aware of how challenging it can be for families to access child psychiatry services in and around Jackson County. Yet there is a high demand for pediatric mental health services in the south central region of the state.
“We view Be Happy as one strategy for helping children and families receive the mental health care they need by providing support to local PCPs,” Adams said. “Besides the provider-to-provider consultation service, we’re also launching a new free monthly continuing education lunch series.”
He said for the series, they will be using the Project ECHO model where health professionals from around the state can join and learn about high-priority topics in pediatric mental health and have opportunities to get feedback on deidentified patient cases from psychiatrists, psychologists and other specialists.
The first session will be at noon Friday. For information, visit camhecho.iu.edu.