About 20% kids will have mental health problems before they graduate high school

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About 1 in 5 kids will have mental health problems, but child psychiatrists are scarce. Pritzkers give $15M to help.

Source: Chicago Tribune

By Lisa Schenker

The girl had always been a worrier.

But as she progressed through middle school, the 12-year-old’s anxiety ramped up and began to interfere with her life. Her family knew she needed professional help.

But instead of waiting potentially months to see a psychiatrist — practitioners who are in short supply — the girl’s parents turned to her pediatrician. The girl’s doctor, Shoshana Waskow is part of a program in which Lurie Children’s Hospital trains specialists and pediatricians to better treat mental illness, supporting them as they work with children.

The girl was assessed through the program, referred to a therapist and then sent back to Waskow, who prescribed a low dose of anti-anxiety medication for her.

“It’s made a tremendous difference for her,” Waskow said. “She’s been able to approach the situations in life that made her anxious with the skills she’s learning from therapy.” And because the girl’s been seeing Waskow her whole life, she was comfortable getting medication from her, said the doctor, who practices with Pediatric Associates of the North Shore.

Now, thanks to a $15 million donation from the Pritzker Foundation, Lurie plans to expand its program to help more children receive mental health treatment, which can otherwise be tough to come by.

Illinois, like most states, has a shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists with only 310 throughout the state, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. It’s a number that can mean long waits for children who need help.

Leaders at Lurie hope that by training more pediatricians, they can get more kids treated, faster.

Typical kid behavior or a mental-health problem? It can be hard to decide.
“About 20 percent of kids will have a mental health problem before graduating from high school,” said Dr. John Walkup, head of the Pritzker Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, newly renamed in honor of the Pritzker gift. Pediatricians “see kids with psychological issues every day but aren’t really trained to identify those conditions when they first present or do anything about it.”

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