How to make behavioral health a part of every doctor’s visit
Children and teenagers experience mental health conditions just like adults do, and these conditions can be difficult to talk about due to the stigma that often surrounds mental health and mental healthcare. By talking about mental health, we can help increase awareness of the struggles that many face as well as the availability of services that can help children and adolescents cope. The most important step is starting the conversation!
Tips on how to talk to families about behavioral health:
As a provider, we only know as much information as people volunteer and we ask for. For something such as mental health where there is often stigma, children may be less likely to volunteer information about the struggles they are facing. It is our role as providers to not be afraid to ask questions and offer support. Asking open-ended questions helps encourage children to share more about their experiences, and when they feel heard and supported they are more likely to continue to confide in you. Often, things that may come up in a provider visit (e.g., weight loss, sleep difficulties) may be a symptom of a larger issue, and the more you take the time to ask questions and investigate further, the more likely you will be to find the root of the problem.
Share the facts
Sharing the facts and statistics about mental health can help children and their families to understand that they are not alone in their struggles – 1 in 5 children will experience a mental health condition. Validating children’s struggles and normalizing what they are going through will make them much more likely to open up and want to seek help and support. Equally important is dispelling any misperceptions that children and families have about mental health or mental health care.
Like other medical conditions, there are treatments available for mental health conditions, and they are effective! Research has shown that early identification and treatment of mental health conditions is particularly helpful in supporting children to go on to lead happy, healthy lives.
Help Families Get Connected
In addition to sharing that there are effective treatments, one of the most important roles we play as providers is linking families to available services. Mental healthcare is often tricky for families to navigate and many don’t know where to begin. Having a referral list of community providers, as well as guiding families in how to go through their insurance to find mental health support, is a crucial piece of making sure families get connected and get the support they need.
You can refer families to our county mental health resource locator, as well as our resource on how to find a mental health provider through insurance.
Even after discussing mental health concerns and connecting families with resources, they may continue to face barriers to accessing care. As providers, it is our responsibility to ensure that we are following up with children and families to check in regarding ongoing difficulties and help problem solve any barriers to care they may face.