Gaps in Youth Mental Health Treatment Call for Pediatricians’ Increased Role

May 23, 2023

Rose Beyer, a "pediatrician in an underserved, poverty-stricken community in Philadelphia," published an article in the May 21, 2023 publication of The Philadelphia Inquirer, titled "Will your teenager die waiting for a psychiatrist?"

In this article, Beyer describes experiences she had during her pediatric residency caring for suicidal teenagers. In highlighting specific experiences that stuck with her, she wrote that she admitted nearly as many adolescents for suicide attempts as asthmatic patients, "and asthma is one of the most common reasons for admission to our hospital."

Beyer cited that, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the fourth leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year olds is now suicide, and that in the past decade, the mental health of high school students has continued to worsen, with 40% of high school students feeling so sad or helpless that they could not engage in their regular activities for at least two weeks during the previous year.

"Adolescent depression and suicidality have quickly become the 'bread and butter' of pediatrics," wrote Beyer. She continued, "Teens without signs of depression or suicidal thoughts or attempts are so rare in our well-visit clinic that they are memorable."

Beyer conceded that there are legitimate concerns that psychiatrists, not pediatricians, are best qualified to provide proper mental health care to adolescents, but expresses the sentiment that pediatricians seemingly must pick up the slack as "the data are clear. We are failing our adolescents." She continued, "With the overwhelming rise of adolescent mental health needs and the scarcity of adolescent psychiatrists in the U.S., the current system must adapt."

Beyer wrote "The current screening, referral, and management process leaves our teens' mental health issues unrecognized and untreated," highlighting that many pediatricians feel as though they lack the training to identify and treat mental health issues.

Beyer concluded her article writing, "It is essential that we incorporate basic mental health care as a core element of pediatric training and practice, so we can fill the gap and provide the care our teens need to survive. Pediatricians have the opportunity to reach patients prior to crisis - to stop the cycle of wash, rinse, repeat. Teens' lives are at stake."

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