United States

Pediatricians Screen for Mental Health Problems

Children's Health implements mental health screenings at all well-visits for its patients.

The system's integrated behavioral health program assigns a behavioral health clinician to the system's 18 pediatric offices in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Children are asked a series of behavioral health questions and if an answer prompts a red flag, the medical provider can immediately contact the behavioral clinician for further assessment.

The director of the program says this helps families connect with further treatment options.

"When they [doctors] say, 'I have concerns about your child's depression, his mood, his attention span,' they suggest going to behavioral health. But the parent then goes home and thinks, 'Well, he's not so bad. I'll talk with my friend. I don't need to follow up with that.' So that's why it's so important that at Children's Health, we are making the connection to behavioral right there in the office," said Sue Schell, clinical director for behavioral health at Children's Health.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost one in five children in the U.S. suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder, and 20-25 percent of affected children receive treatment.

The screening questions are based off a study that found events in a child's life can adversely impact brain development and have long-term mental health implications.

The original 1998 study on the impact of Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) on long-term health clarified the result of a child's lifestyle and home environment on their future health.

"Significant stress exposure damages developing brain architecture, leading to lifelong problems in learning, behavioral and emotional development and physical health," according to researchers.

Children's Health is applying that science to create what it hopes will become standard screening questions across the country.

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