The discussion surrounding mental health awareness has skyrocketed in recent years, going from a once-taboo subject to an acceptable round-table discussion. At every level, those with mental illness are being encouraged to reach out for help, rather than suffer in silence. Not only are we collectively speaking louder about mental wellness but are also actively acknowledging self-harm and suicide as the consequences of untreated mental illness.
Since 2020, anxiety and depression have been affecting a rising number of adolescents. In addition, suicide is the second leading cause of death in 10- to 24-year-olds in the United States. Pediatricians can play a crucial role in identifying adolescents and young adults who are at risk for suicide and thereby prevent it.
Research has shown that a majority of adolescents who died by suicide — 80 percent of them to be exact — visited a healthcare provider within the year prior to their death. In fact, one-third of them saw their doctor the week before their death. But you, as a pediatric provider, have the tools to identify and help these at-risk youth. In this blog, we’ll explore how pediatricians can join in the effort to reduce young adult suicide rates.
How Can Pediatricians Help Identify At-Risk Youth?
Pediatricians serve as an excellent starting point for identifying patients who are struggling with their mental health and who are at risk for suicide and/or self-harm. Look at it this way: Your patient will most likely be coming to you anyway. So, why not build in strategies that have the potential to decrease the number of suicide cases each year? Here are four ways you can help.
Implement Mental Illness Screening and Assessments
Unfortunately, most young people who are contemplating suicide go unrecognized by the healthcare system because they are not asked about it directly. Suicide risk screening and assessment are quick and effective methods for identifying someone who needs to be further evaluated. It’s a way to candidly ask your patients if they are contemplating taking their own life. If you have determined that one of your patients is at risk for suicide or self-harm, it is important to also assess their protective factors and assist them in obtaining more intensive care.
Identify Mental Health Providers for Referrals
Prior to implementing a suicide prevention protocol in your pediatric clinic, you should establish a list of mental and behavioral health providers to whom you can refer patients and families. It’s important to make sure that the providers you recommend are accepting new pediatric patients. In addition, be sure to include cognitive behavioral therapists on your list of suggestions.
Integrate Mental Health Protocols into Telehealth Appointments
Studies have suggested that telehealth services for mental health-related diagnoses escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they continue to be a highly utilized method of providing patient care. Offering convenient and flexible appointment consultations, like telehealth visits, is crucial to implementing and integrating suicide assessment protocols. Straightforward screening questions such as, “Have you thought about harming yourself or others?” can easily be integrated into a virtual appointment.
Use Telehealth as a Complement to Counseling
Most of the ways in which children and families are supported through mental health crises — and even before a crisis — involve counseling. Counseling is often completed through cognitive behavioral therapy, which includes the patient talking through thoughts and fears. Telehealth can aid this conversation because detailed physical examinations and extensive diagnostic tests are usually not required for mental health conditions. Virtual care is also suitable for follow-ups appointments, especially those evaluating how a patient is responding to medication or other treatment. Plus, you can help combat the shortage of pediatric-trained therapists by more efficiently assessing and triaging young patients.
How Can Virtual Care Help Pediatricians Provide Mental Health Services?
Telehealth visits, like those available through the Anytime Pediatrics platform, can increase pediatric patients’ access to mental and behavioral healthcare. Telehealth video appointments offer flexibility and convenience for busy families. For example, virtual appointments might be preferable during the school year for college students who are out of town but still rely on their pediatrician as their primary care provider. Telemedicine visits can also accommodate middle and high school children who are involved in after-school activities and struggle to find time for healthcare appointments.
With Anytime Pediatrics, you can offer video visits during regular business hours or at alternate times that work with families’ schedules. Virtual appointments during the academic months can help identify gaps in care that would be best served at in-person appointments during the summer.
When it comes to providing mental health services, telehealth is a potentially life-saving tool. Reports indicate there is a high rate of patient satisfaction and improved patient outcomes when providers use telehealth for appointments. For more information, contact us today to request a consultation.