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State health officials ask local doctors for help to curb the childhood mental health crisis

The Maryland Department of Health offices in Baltimore.
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The Maryland Department of Health offices in Baltimore.

The Maryland Department of Health and partner organizations are reaching out to pediatricians as mental health situations of children continue to worsen as the coronavirus pandemic lingers. The state department of health has a program known as the Maryland Behavioral Health Integration in Pediatric Primary Care which helps doctors navigate issues like medication management, diagnoses, developmental delays, autism, trauma and more.

There were nearly 143,000 children across the state between 3 years old and 17 years old who have developed anxiety and depression in recent years, according to federal data crunched by local nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kid Count Data Book.

That’s an increase of 36% of children who said they felt depressed or anxious between 2016 and 2022.

In 2016, roughly 9.4% of children in that age group suffered from mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. By the end of 2020, nearly 13% of youth statewide had such diagnoses.

“We noticed that during the pandemic we saw an increase in children having difficulties with depression and anxiety,” said Dr. Lisa Burgess, interim deputy director of the Maryland Behavioral Health Administration. “We certainly seek to address that issue by providing services the throughout the continuum of care.”

Those issues are exacerbated by a workforce shortage in the mental health realm. Hospitals are, at times, having trouble finding beds for children.

Burgess said the program is partnering with local colleges to bring on social work interns to address that issue.

Program services are available by phone Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to the state.

“If the clinician needs a referral to a mental health provider in the area, [the program] can help with that,” Burgess said. “If the clinician feels like the child is in a crisis, the clinical consultation can help with that.”

Scott is the Health Reporter for WYPR. @smaucionewypr
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