Because of the COVID-19 pandemic there is now a mental health crisis affecting our young patients. The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association issued a declaration in October of 2021 indicating that policymakers should advocate for the following:
- Increase federal funding dedicated to ensuring all families and children, from infancy through adolescence, can access evidence-based mental health screening, diagnosis, and treatment to appropriately address their mental health needs, with particular emphasis on meeting the needs of under-resourced populations.
- Address regulatory challenges and improve access to technology to assure continued availability of telemedicine to provide mental health care to all populations.
- Increase implementation and sustainable funding of effective models of school-based mental health care, including clinical strategies and models for payment.
- Accelerate adoption of effective and financially sustainable models of integrated mental health care in primary care pediatrics, including clinical strategies and models for payment.
- Strengthen emerging efforts to reduce the risk of suicide in children and adolescents through prevention programs in schools, primary care, and community settings.
- Address the ongoing challenges of the acute care needs of children and adolescents, including shortage of beds and emergency room boarding by expanding access to step-down programs from inpatient units, short-stay stabilization units, and community-based response teams.
- Fully fund comprehensive, community-based systems of care that connect families in need of behavioral health services and supports for their child with evidence-based interventions in their home, community or school.
- Promote and pay for trauma-informed care services that support relational health and family resilience.
- Accelerate strategies to address longstanding workforce challenges in child mental health, including innovative training programs, loan repayment, and intensified efforts to recruit underrepresented populations into mental health professions as well as attention to the impact that the public health crisis has had on the well-being of health professionals.
- Advance policies that ensure compliance with and enforcement of mental health parity laws.
Unfortunately, there is a significant shortage of mental health counselors. In my own experience patients may wait months before they can access a mental health provider. This is the case with patients who have commercial insurance. Usually those on Medicaid have much longer wait times.
Pediatricians are now prescribing medications for children with significant mental health issues. Fortunately, “Prescription Digital Therapeutics” (PDT) have been developed as they have demonstrated efficacy in clinical trials. SparkRX is one such PDT application that has demonstrated efficacy for depression in adolescents. SparkRx is being provided for free under FDA’s Enforcement Policy for Digital Health Devices For Treating Psychiatric Disorders During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Public Health Emergency. It is free and looks quite promising. My interview with the Chief Medical Officer of Limbix, is wide ranging. I was pleased to learn they are now working on a PDT for anxiety in pediatric patients. Please stay tuned.