Mental Health Experts Announce Steps to Help Troubled Youth

Ideas Follow Bush Commission Findings on Failed Care for Children

November 14, 2003

A group of 60 experts from 22 national health care organizations has announced new programs and tools to combat the growing problem of neglected mental health needs in youth. It has been estimated that 13.7 million children and teenagers in the U.S. have a mental health or psychosocial problem that impairs their functioning, but 70 percent of them do not receive any mental health services.

The plans, first developed at The National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP)’s Keep Your Children/Yourself Safe and Secure Campaign summit on March 28-29, 2003, at the University of Rochester School of Nursing, are being published this week in a special supplement publication by the Journal of Pediatric Health Care. They include:

  • New screening tools to help health care providers identify mental health problems
  • Creation of a core curriculum for professional educational programs to train clinicians to detect and treat psychosocial problems more effectively
  • Launch of a national continuing-education institute and on-line courses to equip providers with strategies for early intervention with children and teens at risk for severe psychiatric problems
  • A clearinghouse Web site for healthcare providers, parents and teens to learn more about these problems
  • A guide to teach pediatric healthcare providers about health screening, interventions, and health promotion. Part One of the guide is being pilot-tested with pediatricians and pediatric nurse practitioners
  • A major public-health campaign to raise awareness of these problems and to decrease the ongoing stigma associated with them

“Sadly, we’ve reached an era where mental health and psychosocial problems, and related risk-taking behaviors and preventable injuries, cause more disability and death in children and teens than do physical health problems,” says Bernadette Melnyk, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN, founder and chairperson of NAPNAP’s Keep Your Children/Yourself Safe and Secure (K.y.S.S.) Campaign and associate dean for research and professor at the University of Rochester School of Nursing.

Last Spring, Melnyk wrote a policy brief on the campaign’s plans and delivered it on Capitol Hill to senior staffers in congressional offices. At the time, President Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health was finding that “the mental health system is failing Americans” and that one of the major barriers to care is fragmentation and gaps in care for children.

Former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, M.D., in a speech during the campaign summit in Rochester, explained that most mental health treatment can be delivered by primary care providers if they are well trained in the assessment and early management of these problems.

The key is to give providers the training and tools to recognize problems, says Holly Brown, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, teaching associate at the University of Rochester School of Nursing and a task force co-chair at the campaign summit.

“Identifying those problems and addressing them is obviously important for the health of the individual child, and it also means we could potentially prevent these problems from going untreated and becoming even more serious in adulthood,” says Brown. “Early screening and prevention remain a focal area of concern for mental health care delivery to children and teens.”

Task forces at the campaign summit also met to create initiatives addressing key problems facing children and teens, such as depression and anxiety, eating disorders, teen sexuality and high-risk sexual behavior, substance abuse and violence.

Groups supporting and participating in the summit included the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American School Health Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the National Association of School Psychologists, the American Nurses Association, and the Association of Faculties of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners.

The first phase of the NAPNAP K.y.S.S. campaign involved a national mental health survey of more than 1,900 children, teens, parents, and pediatric primary care providers from 24 states. Findings were reported in the September/October 2002 issue of Journal of Pediatric Healthcare.

The supplement was sponsored by NAPNAP, HRSA/Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Pfizer Inc., and the Center for Research and Evidence-Based Practice and the Center for High-Risk Children and Youth at the University of Rochester School of Nursing.

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