Vermont working to find creative ways to address mental health issues among young people

For Immediate Release: April 10, 2008
Media Contact: Communication Office
Vermont Department of Health
802-863-7281

BURLINGTON – Each year, nearly one in five Vermont children and adolescents (nearly 29,000) will have a diagnosable mental health or addictive disorder, or a co-occurrence of both disorders. Without prevention, early screening and intervention, these problems can become more acute and severe and will take longer to heal.

According to the 2008 Health Status of Vermonters, 32 percent of girls in 10th grade reported being depressed in 2005, a rate for girls that is more than double the adult rate for women between the ages of 18 and 59. Young boys also experience a higher rate of depression than adult men (18 percent of 12th grade boys, 8-to-10 percent of men ages 18-59).

“Statewide, we have to find creative ways to expand mental health care treatment and services for children and youth,” said Wendy Davis, MD, maternal and child health director for the Vermont Department of Health. “We are working hard to close the gaps in terms of evaluation, triage and direct service.”

The State of Vermont, including the Department of Mental Health and the Department for Children & Families, provided community mental health services to more than 10,000 young adults and children in 2005, more than double the 4,000 children served in 1985.

“The steps we are taking now should increase the early intervention services that allow us to get to these kids before they are in crisis,” said Michael Hartman, commissioner of the Department of Mental Health. “We’re getting better at identifying kids who need services, and we need to continue to normalize the idea that seeking help can ensure that you’ll get the best possible care.”

One creative way Vermont has addressed the problem is to place a medical social worker directly into a pediatrician’s office. Newport Pediatrics, a two pediatrician practice near North Country Hospital, has a social worker who provides support if a child or family is struggling with a mental health issue such as depression.

Sylvie Corriveau, 32, has been providing on-site counseling and referral services since January 2008. Her position is partially funded by a grant from the Health Department and the Department of Mental Health in consultation with the Vermont Child Health Improvement Program (VCHIP).

“The kids I work with are under a lot of stress and lack some of the necessary coping skills,” Corriveau said. “I provide supportive counseling, case management and consultation, and I also provide referrals to therapists in the area. The more treatment and prevention services we can provide once we are alerted to a mental health issue, the sooner we can begin to work with these kids and allow them to move on. It’s important to connect with these kids as soon as possible.”

Another creative solution is to provide psychiatric consultation services for primary care providers, a project that is currently underway at locations in Rutland, Wilmington, White River Junction, St. Johnsbury, Newport, Bradford and Bennington.

“Consultation with a child psychiatrist improves that capacity for quality treatment and care,” Dr. Davis said. “It also improves the timeliness of screening, diagnosis and treatment for children with mental health needs.”

Anytime there is a major public health concern, it is important to bring together all of Vermont’s key stakeholders to work together to find a solution – especially in a situation where there is a shortage of trained mental health care providers in the state, Dr. Davis said.

A group with representatives from the Vermont Department of Health, Department of Mental Health, the University of Vermont and VCHIP and community-based organizations in Chittenden County are taking a comprehensive look at statewide mental health care for children and youth.

Weekly telemedicine consultations are also taking place in St. Albans, Morrisville and Newport involving the UVM Department of Psychiatry and VCHIP. A child psychiatrist at UVM, Dr. Jim Hudziak, provides e-mail consultation with caregivers at the three facilities and offers expertise and advice.

Also underway in Vermont is a clinical improvement project that is designed to provide a web-based, best-practice model for primary care providers for treatment of mental health conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Corriveau said that in Newport, her best resource has been the community at large.

“When I am assessing a young person for a condition like depression, I rely on the information I get back from those people in the community who know these students the best, because we are dealing with a range of emotions, behavioral issues at schools, appetite and mood changes,” Corriveau said. “Anything not typical of that child or young person is worth looking into and questioning, and it is worth investigating so that as soon as possible, we can get that person help.”

For more information on the 2008 Health Status of Vermonters Report or Public Health Week, go to HealthVermont.gov.

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