Dr. Harold Koplewicz kicked off Speak Up for Kids today in a wide-ranging online conversation with Cynthia McFadden about the barriers to care that keep kids with psychiatric disorders from getting the help they need.
This year’s month-long Speak Up campaign comes in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, and President Obama’s call for a national conversation on children’s mental health. Dr. Koplewicz notes that the fact is that mass shootings are very rare, but mental illness is very common.
The overwhelming majority of kids with psychiatric problems go untreated, he notes: Only 1 out of 7 Hispanic children who need treatment get it, 1 out of 5 black children who need it, and 1 out of 3 white children who need it.
What are the barriers to care? The No. 1 barrier is stigma. We have become accustomed to adults we respect—actresses, business executives, comedians, even First Ladies—speaking up about depression, and other disorders they’ve experienced, he notes. But parents are still very inhibited about sharing their worries about their children. And hiding those worries, hoping your child’s problems will just go away, is the worst thing you can do for a child who’s struggling.
The second barrier to care is limited access to qualified mental health professionals. Pediatricians aren’t trained to recognize and treat psychiatric problems, and the average pediatrician in managed care has only 7 minutes to spend on a checkup for a child. Too many problems are overlooked, or kids are routinely medicated when they would benefit more from behavioral treatment.
The third barrier Dr. Koplewicz outlined is a shortage of research. We know more about the brain than ever before, but not nearly enough to achieve the breakthroughs in treatment we need. It’s the last frontier, and progress will be slow unless we get a very significant funding increase.
To achieve that we have to treat these disorders above the neck with the same respect as other disorders, and stop making them the lowest priority. Psychiatry is the orphan of medicine, child psych the orphan of the orphan.
To hear the whole conversation, click here.