The mental health of pediatric patients, especially adolescents, has always been an important topic for pediatricians. The mental health of pediatric patients has especially been challenged over the recent years with the COVID-19 pandemic and virtual learning, racial injustice, school shootings, proposals on transgender health and much more. In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association, declared a national state of emergency for pediatric mental health. While this declaration was at the height of the pandemic, concerns for the mental health of pediatric patients remain high. So, if you’re an adolescent patient and are concerned, how do you receive help? Below, we’ll highlight different options for navigating mental health resources.
When should you call the pediatrician?
You’ve noticed that you:
- Are sad or irritable?
- Are less interested in school activities?
- Are wanting to sleep all the time or having difficulty sleeping?
- Are over-eating or having little appetite?
- Are anxious and having difficulty controlling your worries?
Any of these behaviors can be a reason to call the pediatrician to have a visit to discuss your mood. There are subtle, as well as overt, signs of anxiety and depression and the pediatrician can help you navigate through these concerns.
If you’re concerned that you’re not safe or have attempted suicide, it’s important to seek help and go to an emergency department. There is a 24-hour, free suicide/crisis hotline where you can talk to someone by dialing 988.
What to expect at the pediatrician visit?
You’ll likely receive some forms to complete when you arrive at your visit. These confidential forms can include a screening for depression and anxiety. The pediatrician will talk with both you and your caregivers in the exam room. The provider will then talk with you, the adolescent patient, one on one to gain a more confidential history. This may take some time, so caregivers may want to take a seat in the waiting room. Once the provider has a good history and physical exam, they’ll then talk through their treatment suggestions. Each patient is different, so there are numerous treatment options but, oftentimes, some of these may include receiving information on counseling resources.
What are mental health resources?
As stated above, the pediatrician may provide you and your family with a list of mental health, or counseling, resources. What exactly does this mean? Mental health resources can include a list of counselors or psychiatrists, depending on your needs. Your pediatrician may have a list of local counselors. These can be printed out at the end of your visit or sent to you through the patient portal. If you’ve not seen your pediatrician and are just looking to find a counselor on your own, you’re always able to research counselors through your insurance plan’s website to find organizations that will be covered.
Once you have a list of organizations that may be able to help you, what is the next step?
- Time for research. You and your family can sit down together and research each organization online, as most of them will have a website. You can see if there are any places that look appealing to you.
- Time to write emails or make phone calls. Each organization will state whether they’ll take an email, phone call or both to set up a new patient appointment. Follow these instructions to be seen by a new counselor. Some websites have in-depth surveys that allow patients to state what they want to discuss. You may be able to list any preferences regarding gender or spirituality of the counselor and may also list if you want to be seen in person, virtually or both.
- What if they have wait lists? Unfortunately, due to the high need of counselors, many organizations will have wait lists to be seen as a new patient. It’s helpful to have your name on multiple waitlists if you want to be seen sooner rather than later. If you feel that your mood is worsening while on the waitlist, call your pediatrician for a check-in. There may be other options to explore!
- What if you didn’t connect with the counselor? It’s important that you feel comfortable with your counselor so they can provide you with the care you need. If you’ve done a couple of sessions and realize you don’t feel comfortable being open or you’re just not connecting with the counselor, it’s okay to switch to a different counselor or a different organization!
It can take significant effort and a lot of time to find a counselor, get off a wait list, and even find a new counselor if the first one didn’t feel right. However, it’s worth it if you can find a counselor who provides you with some help and comfort.
Written by Sydney Ryckman, MD
Reviewed by Sara Laule, MD