If you think the state of young people’s mental health in the U.S. hasn’t reached a crisis point yet, you are sorely mistaken, Lawrence Moss said Monday during an interview at HLTH. He is the CEO of Nemours Children’s Health, a pediatric health system with more than 95 locations in four states.
Moss gave some sobering statistics on the youth mental health crisis, saying that nearly a quarter of children in the U.S. have a diagnosable mental health disease and that youth suicide rates have quadrupled over the past few years.
“When you talk about child health right now, it’s more about behavioral health than physical health. We don’t typically like to think of it that way, but that’s the reality. If you can only do one thing for the health of children in this country, it would be in the behavioral health sphere,” he declared.
One of the most important things Nemours has done to address this crisis is embedding behavioral health into its primary care model, Moss noted.
When a child visits their Nemours primary care provider or meets with them via telehealth, the provider screens for behavioral health symptoms, like many pediatric primary care providers do. However, Nemours took things further by ensuring that its primary care locations are staffed behavioral health providers. That way, primary care providers can do a better job of ensuring that their patients have access to behavioral health services should they need it, Moss explained.
“It’s not ‘Oh, you need a behavioral health provider. Here’s a number — call and good luck getting an appointment.’ We have somebody in the next office down the hall, and that’s been transformational and been a big step forward,” he said.
School-based behavioral health services are another important part of improving the youth mental health crisis, Moss pointed out.
Nemours has opened “a lot” of healthcare clinics in schools, and the health system has worked hard to ensure that these clinics provide accessible behavioral health services, he noted. There are also several startups that have launched in recent years to scale school-based mental health services, such as Cartwheel, Daybreak Health and Hazel Health.
“Schools are where the kids are — they’re there every day. And a lot of families, especially from disadvantaged communities, have an inherent distrust in the healthcare system, but they trust the school. So schools are a good partner and window of opportunity for us,” Moss explained.
In addition to embedding behavioral care into primary care and bringing behavioral health services to schools, Nemours has also taken steps to consider how children’s mental health challenges can vary by their unique identities and circumstances. For instance, the health system teamed up with First Lady Jill Biden in 2021 to develop a set of behavioral health management standards for veterans’ children.
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