National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day spotlights the need for integrated care

Thursday, May 4, was National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day whose theme this year, “Partnering for Help and Hope”, rings particularly true with Beacon Health Options. Highlighting the importance of integrating behavioral health and primary care for children, youth and young adults with mental and/or substance use disorders, the day brings to light the many innovative Beacon programs and solutions that integrate behavioral health and primary care. At Beacon, we view the community as integral to the solution.

Acknowledging children’s mental health as an issue is an important first step. Approximately, one in five children and adolescents in the United States have a diagnosable mental health disorder. National research has found that despite the high incidence of mental health disorders in children and adolescents, approximately only 20 percent of children receive the care they need. This is due to many factors, including a lack of knowledge and access to mental health and substance use disorder services and the stigma associated with getting care. If left untreated, mental health and behavioral disorders will interfere with a child’s daily functioning and can lead to life-long problems, such as academic underperformance, alcohol and/or drug use, family conflict, or other self-destructive behaviors, even suicide. Furthermore, mental health problems that are not addressed early on may result in more intensive and costly care later in life.

Approximately, one in five children and adolescents in the United States have a diagnosable mental health disorder. National research has found that despite the high incidence of mental health disorders in children and adolescents, approximately only 20 percent of children receive the care they need.

Partnering for help and hope through integration

One way to close this gap in accessing care is through proactive outreach, specifically in the identification of those children who urgently need services. The integration of behavioral health and primary care can help us do that through routine behavioral health screenings, especially during well-child visits. Integration also strengthens partnerships and communication among behavioral health providers, primary care providers, educators, child welfare agencies, families and youth.

The integration buzz has taken hold around the country. For example, nearly 2 million children in New York state receive physical health services through Medicaid Managed Care. However, their mental health and substance use disorder services are delivered through a Medicaid fee-for-service model. As part of New York’s Medicaid Redesign Initiatives, children’s behavioral health services, including existing Medicaid behavioral health services, Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) and new State Plan Amendment Services, will be included in the Medicaid Managed Care benefit package. The goal is to break down the current silos and offer a cross-systems approach to deliver integrated behavioral health and physical health services.

Additionally, in New York City, Beacon is working to increase knowledge and access to children’s behavioral health services. In partnership with the Mental Health Association of NYC, Beacon operates NYC Well, which provides free confidential counseling and crisis intervention and connects individuals to peer support and referrals to care.

However, Beacon’s efforts to help children and families are not restricted to New York. We serve children in every Medicaid market where we do business – 26 states and Washington DC – specializing in high-needs and complex populations, including those with serious emotional disturbance, first episode psychosis, transition age youth, child welfare populations and juvenile justice-involved youth. That expertise is supported by Beacon’s core values concerning how we manage services for these populations: child-centered and family-driven, strengths-based, culturally responsive, collaborative and integrated.

While May 4 was National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, Beacon’s mission is to serve children’s mental health everyday, but we can’t do it without our community partners. The day’s “Partnering for Health and Hope” theme gets to the heart of the solution. By coordinating all of the services provided across the child-serving agencies, community support systems and health care providers, we will be able to offer help and hope to every child, youth and young adult we serve.

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