09:55 AM

Kryder: New Statewide Network to Increase Access to Mental Health Treatment for Children in the Roanoke Valley


Amy C. Kryder, M.D., is a pediatrician at Carilion Children's Pediatric Medicine in Daleville and an Assistant Professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. Dr. Kryder plays a leadership role in delivering education to pediatric primary care providers to assess and manage pediatric mental health problems.

Kryder, Amy-Edit

Gov. Northam and Daniel Carey, MD, MHCM, Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources, recently participated in the official launch of a new statewide initiative designed to help increase the access of mental health care to the state’s young people. This launch marked a milestone for the health of children in the commonwealth.

More so, it is an exciting step forward for children’s mental health in southwest Virginia.

The unveiling of the Virginia Mental Health Access Project (VMAP) addresses a pressing health need and challenge in Virginia and our region – the severe lack of mental health resources for children and adolescents. The fact is, the commonwealth ranks 41st in the country in the number of mental health professionals like child psychiatrists and psychologists.

In our corner of the state, the situation is especially acute. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, for the approximately 100,000 children in the Roanoke metropolitan area, there are fewer than 20 practicing child and adolescent psychiatrists (2012-2016 data). The number of child and adolescent psychiatrists per child only becomes lower as you leave the Roanoke metro area. The need is particularly critical in the surrounding rural counties and far southwest.

Why does this matter? For too long, the mental health of children and teens has not received the attention it deserves. Research tells us that one in three patients who visit pediatricians like me have spoken of mental health issues. These same concerns can lead to hospitalization of children as young as 4 and 5 years old, in addition to school age children and teens.

Overall, up to 20 percent of American children have a diagnosable mental health condition. Most alarming, one in five high school students admit they have considered taking their lives within the past 12 months. Tragically, suicide is the second leading cause of death for youths ages 10 to24.

A straightforward solution to the problem would be to simply increase the number of mental health providers. However, doing so is simply not possible in the short term. That’s why VMAP was created – to address the need in other innovative ways.

The first way is through education of the pediatricians and other primary care providers who care for kids every day. VMAP provides training to better diagnose, treat and manage mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, ADHD and other conditions. This has been especially helpful on the heels of the pandemic. Children have increasingly been exhibiting a range of social anxiety, sadness and academic struggles as a result of their isolation, the breakdown of familiar life patterns, and worry about becoming ill themselves or getting COVID-19 and transmitting it to those they love.

Via regional hubs throughout the state, VMAP also manages a critical network of mental health professionals who are available by phone or through telehealth. This network gives pediatricians and primary care providers real-time access to experts who can support us in our care of kids, teens and young adults. VMAP also has care navigators who can help families identify resources and guide them through the often-complicated task of finding needed mental health care.

The beauty of the VMAP system is that it provides care in the child’s medical home in the context of the trusted relationship with their pediatrician or primary care provider. This important relationship has often evolved over the lifetime of the child and family. Sometimes it is generations long. This trust and understanding of the family can provide for better outcomes for children and adolescents.

VMAP is growing in our region. Its accessibility to me and my colleagues promises to make a tangible difference in the mental health of our region’s children and young people.