Program Would Focus on Intervention and Treatment in Children, Follows National Report Finding 1 in 5 Children Suffer With Mental Health Disorders
TRENTON – In an effort to improve early intervention and treatment of mental health disorders in children, Senator Bob Gordon this week introduced legislation to create a pilot program in Bergen County that would provide increased education and support to primary care physicians through collaboration with experts in the area of child mental health.
“We know that early intervention and treatment of mental health disorders can make a real difference in the life of a child. However, too few doctors in general practice have the level of expertise they need to diagnose and treat children effectively,” said Senator Gordon, D-Bergen and Passaic. “By providing doctors with the ability to consult with mental health professionals routinely, we can ensure better screening, diagnosis, treatment, and ultimately better outcomes for our kids.”
The legislation would create a two-year pilot program in Bergen County that provides for a system of collaboration between primary care physicians and mental health care professionals to better address mental health disorders in children, which according to a national study issued last week, are increasing in prevalence nationwide. The study issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that millions of American children live with depression, anxiety, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, Tourette syndrome and other mental health issues. One in five children experience a mental disorder during any given year, according to the CDC. And yet, federal officials say less than half of children get the help they need.
“We have to take steps to improve mental health care for children, and since New Jersey – along with the nation – is facing a shortage of child psychiatrists, we have to look at new and innovative methods of delivery,” said Senator Gordon. “This pilot will bring together experts within the field to provide a more collaborative system to make sure we are meeting the needs of our children and families when it comes to this critical care.”
The bill would require the Department of Health to establish the “Collaborative Mental Health Care Pilot Program” to provide a system of support to primary care physicians through the creation of a child mental health treatment team. The team would include child psychiatrists, primary care physicians, licensed social workers and administrative personnel.
The legislation provides for the New Jersey Primary Care Child Psychiatry Collaborative to develop: an education program for primary care providers; a mental health care guide that, at a minimum, would include information about referrals, screenings, diagnoses, assessments and treatments; and a mental health resource guide for children and adolescents and their families. The pilot would also allow for a one-time direct consultation child psychiatric service when a patient, parent or physician requests or requires such services.
“General practice physicians play an important role in diagnosing and treating mental health disorders in children. In addition, up to 75 percent of medications prescribed to children for treatment are ordered by primary care physicians. Yet, few have established relationships with experts in the field in the community in which they practice where they can get in-depth and timely advice,” said Gordon. “This program will provide primary care doctors with immediate access to child mental health specialists. It will ensure that a high-level of support is available for them at all times so that children get the care they need.”