ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Ivanhoe) — Suicide is the third leading cause of death among kids age ten to 14. Five percent of teens under age 18 struggle with severe depression and five percent of all school-aged kids have diagnosed learning disabilities. Yet, for more than a decade there has been a severe shortage in the number of doctors with the specialized training to tackle kids’ mental health issues.
Kennedy Reese is an outgoing nine-year old. But early on, she had trouble interacting with classmates.
Kennedy’s father, Vincent, explained her behavior as “Just poking and prodding. Things that you know could be annoying to others.”
Kennedy was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but finding help wasn’t as easy as one might think.
Mini Tandon, D.O., a child psychiatrist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, told Ivanhoe, “There are states that only have a handful of child psychiatrists.”
Dr. Tandon has established a community mental health clinic treating kids as young as pre-school. She knows she is an anomaly.
There are only 8,500 child psychiatrists nationwide and an estimated 15 million kids who need help.
After nine years of med school and training, Eric Wittrock, D.O. became a child psychiatry fellow and is now a practicing child psychiatrist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. This play therapy is subtle, but effective.
Dr. Wittrock detailed, “I think it’s a little more sophisticated in that you’re trying to draw things out of the child rather than probing them for more information.”
Dr. Tandon supervises from behind a two-way mirror. While about twenty percent of the country’s med schools don’t sponsor child psych residency programs Washington University is expanding theirs.
“If we aren’t committed to training the next generation of child psychiatrists then we are going to have a bigger problem than we already have on our hands,” Dr. Tandon told Ivanhoe.
The Reese family said they’re lucky. Early ADHD intervention made all the difference.
“I could get help for my daughter and break through at an early age, before it became an impediment for her,” said Vincent.
Depending upon a child’s condition and the state where he lives, new patients can wait anywhere between one and six months to be seen. Some say many med students are avoiding the specialty because of the comparatively lower salary. Some states are addressing the shortage by offering programs to pay off student loans for mental health workers, including child psychiatrists, who agree to work in underserved areas.
Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Brent Sucher, Videographer.
KIDS IN CRISIS: TRAINING THE NEXT GERERATION OF MENTAL HEALTH DOCS
BACKGROUND: Suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people between the ages 10 and 24, and it’s estimated that around 3 to 5% of children between the ages of 13 to 18 suffer from severe depression. Furthermore, around 4% of all American children are diagnosed with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders each year. With these numbers being so high, one would expect the numbers of psychiatrists that treat these disorders are also high; but, unfortunately this is not the case. There are not enough psychiatrists in the U.S. who can treat child patients suffering from a mental health disease.
SHORTAGE OF CHILD PSYCHIATRISTS: According to the AACAP, there are a little over 8,000 youth and child psychiatrists and over 15 million youths in need of one. The biggest problem the shortage of child psychiatrist creates is the long time on wait-lists. The journal Psychiatric Services, by the American Psychiatric Association, published that the average waiting time in major U.S. metropolitan areas to see a child psychiatrist is 25 days for a first visit. Even if the patient has insurance, or willing to pay out of pocket, an appointment is not guaranteed. Waiting for an appointment for 2 or 3 months doesn’t seem like a long time, but the initial waiting is just the beginning of the process. The medicine the child might be prescribed with may take up to eight weeks to become effective, sometimes even more since the initial prescription is a small dose; but even then, medication doesn’t mean that the problem no longer exists. Why is there such a shortage? It is believed that it’s due to the low-income the psychiatrists receive annually and the amount of education they have to have. A college freshman aspiring to be a child psychiatrist is looking at 14 years of training and likely a mountain of debt, while only earning approximately $183,000 anually according to Salary.com
STRATEGIES: Several strategies and solutions have been proposed in order to help close the gap of the shortage of psychiatrists. The first one is creating a “loan forgiveness program”, like the one that already exists by the National Health Service Corps for primary care physicians. This program works by forgiving their loans if they work a certain amount of time in underserved areas. Another option is telepsychiatry, where a psychiatrist treats patients in underserved populations through video conferencing. The most promising is pushing the psychiatrist to work closely with the patient’s health care providers, where the child psychiatrists would serve as a consultant to the patient’s pediatrician.
* For More Information, Contact:
Judy Martin, Director of Media Relations
Washington University of St. Louis
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