As many as 50% of all American children with mental health problems go without receiving treatment,1 often due to a scarcity of mental health specialists. A promising new study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry looked at 245,512 children and adolescents over the course of 13 years and suggests that children in states with child psychiatric consultation programs are significantly more likely to receive mental health services than children in states who don’t. One of the authors of the study, Bradley D. Stein, MD, PhD, noted that “as we try, as a nation, to figure out ways to address the crisis of unmet mental health needs for our children, this [psychiatric consultation programs] is an important step.” 2
Psychiatric consultation programs are designed in order to give primary care physicians who see children access to psychiatric specialists and encourage them to provide services for mental health needs. "What I love about these programs is that they're not dependent on expanding the number of providers, instead, they look at how we can use the resources we have, organize them more efficiently, and then extend these limited resources to reach more kids" commented Katherine Hobbs Knutson, MD, MPH, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine.2
One such example of a psychiatric consultation program is the North Carolina Pediatric Access Line, or NC-PAL, created by Duke Integrated Pediatric Mental Health and Cardinal Innovations, to address the shortage of mental health resources in rural communities. A Medscape article describing the efforts of NC-PAL noted that “after calling the access line a few times to get advice some of the pediatric providers have reported being more comfortable addressing mental health issues that come up on their own.”3
Psychiatric consultation programs are not the final answer to the question of how to reach all children needing mental health resources. Stein noted that these programs are “going to be one part of the puzzle. And we’re going to need other pieces as well.”2 However, it is an encouraging step in the right direction.