For adolescents, the goal of two new programs at Atlantic Health System is to find and treat mental health issues that are surprisingly common: anxiety, depression, and attention deficit disorder, as well as alcohol and substance misuse.
These affect one in every five children over age 14, and they can be debilitating.
“Psychiatric problems affect physical health, and they can affect children’s ability to excel personally and in school,” says Thomas Zaubler, MD, MPH, chairman of the department of psychiatry at Morristown Medical Center. “Though we have effective treatments – medicines and psychotherapy – most kids receive no treatment at all.”
Often, no one diagnoses children with these conditions. There is also a shortage of children’s mental health professionals, he says.
However, the two new programs at Atlantic Health System bring innovative ways to solve these problems, by integrating psychiatric care into pediatric offices.
One program involves mental health screenings during a child’s yearly wellness visit. Run by the hospital’s department of psychiatry, the team includes a behavioral health clinician who is on-site in the pediatrician’s office and other specialists when needed – all overseen by a child psychiatrist.
“This initiative is the first in the state to integrate psychiatric care into a pediatric practice,” Dr. Zaubler says. “This makes care more accessible for the children who need it.”
Mental Health ‘Hubs’
In another initiative, pediatricians screen for anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions, and refer patients to a “hub” of professionals who provide consultation to the pediatric practice, care coordination, referrals to community providers and some direct care as well. Hubs are located in Morris and Passaic counties as well as in Somerset, Sussex, Warren and Hunterdon counties.
The hubs are funded through Hackensack Meridian’s grant from the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, and they have partnered with Atlantic Health System.
“The purpose is to identify common psychiatric problems as early as possible and coordinate any care children need,” Dr. Zaubler says. “By having a place where pediatricians can get support to manage these health issues, they are better able to help their patients improve their mental health.”