BUFFALO, NY - As concerns grow about mental health issues impacting young people, studies show one-in-five children have some sort of mental health condition. And the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends depression screenings for children starting at the age of 12 during their annual check-ups.
The problem is the apparent serious shortage of trained health care professionals who will focus on mental health for children and teens.
As UB Medical School graduates new white coats as doctors each year, only two or three training spots are in the highly specialized field of child psychiatry. It's a common number for the estimated 100 teaching programs around the country leading to a very serious shortage for very serious problems.
As psychologist Dr. Amy Beth Taublieb points out, "It's traumatic for the child and the parent."
While overcoming the stigma of mental health treatment for adults, the application to children is much more difficult on points like prescribing psychotropic medicine when needed and then to looking past the patient to the family dynamics.
Dr. Taublieb points out, "Very seldom in this field if you are working with a child with a difficulty are you limited to working with the child. Sometimes the family is less than willing to talk about their issues - you know take care of my daughter, take care of my son...leave me the heck out of it."
As such many mental health professionals avoid treating children and stick to patients 15 years old and above. UB Medical School did use a pilot program to address the shortage with programs tied in to Albany.
Dr. Yogesh Bakhai, Chief of Psychiatry at ECMC and a UB Medical School professor says, "New York state has given the money to train average pediatricians to learn about mental health issues and treat them in their office settings with some consultation with the child psychatrists."
It is also hoped that more of a team approach blending school psychologists, social workers, and other counselors can fill some gaps.
As 2 on Your Side reported last November, the Iroquois School District and other schools have teamed up with Gateway Longview Child Behavior Services to provide in school counseling sessions with parents paying through health insurance.