Helping the doctors who help our children’s mental health

Tags: cpan, children, mental health

By TAFP President Mary Nguyen, MD, and Texas Pediatric Society President-Elect Louis Appel, MD, MPH

We urge all physicians to become educated about the ongoing mental health crisis our youth and families are facing. These are the facts none of us can escape in our busy practices: one in four children suffer from a mental health condition, 50% of serious mental health disorders have been diagnosed by age 14, and suicide rates continue to increase for young people. COVID-19 has only worsened these worrisome national trends.

Between 2016 and 2020, the number of children ages three to 17 diagnosed with anxiety grew by 29%, and depression jumped by 27%. Those numbers are expected to grow even more as young people recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health. In 2022 they released a Blueprint for Youth Suicide Prevention detailing prevention strategies designed to support pediatric health clinicians.

Who does a patient or family turn to?

Naturally, parents reach out to their trusted family doctors and health care providers who have helped their children through so many other issues. We know that upwards of 30% of pediatric visits include a question related to anxiety, inability to focus, trauma, depression, sleep issues, and anger outbursts. Families deserve our help.

But where can those doctors turn to diagnose and treat their growing number of patients with behavioral health challenges?

The Texas Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott created the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium in 2019 to address gaps in mental health care for children and teens through a collaboration of health-related institutions, state agencies, and nonprofits.

The consortium includes the Child Psychiatry Access Network (CPAN), which offers pediatric primary care providers consultations via phone or screen with a child psychiatrist within 30 minutes to help assess, diagnose, and implement treatment plans.

CPAN’s network of psychiatrists work in real time to develop treatment plans for emotional and mental health issues, provide patient-specific vetted resource referrals, and help families desperate to get resources for their struggling children and teens. CPAN also routinely provides free mental health continuing medical education training, so pediatric providers can continue enhancing their skills and education to meet the mental health clinical demands they face.

CPAN is completing its second year with several notable accomplishments, including over 8,400 enrolled providers, 1,500 enrolled clinics, 10,000 completed consults, and over 9,320 children and families supported.

One provider in Garland told us that “I was able to quickly connect with a CPAN psychiatrist to address my patient’s mental health, so they did not have to wait weeks to months to access psychiatry.”

We know the problem. Too many Texas children and teens grapple with mental and behavioral health challenges, and you need support as well.

We have identified one part of the solution. Pediatric providers must have quick access to behavioral health support to help diagnose and treat patients effectively. Many pediatricians and family medicine doctors would benefit from accessing CPAN and speaking in real time with medical colleagues while their patients are still in the office or connected online.

Let’s make sure all pediatric providers know and use these resources to help address the mental health crisis Texas children and families are facing.

Take the first step – make a call. Get support and help support those families in your care.

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