New program improves children’s access to mental health

Children’s Minnesota is now offering new programs to improve access to teen mental health treatment as COVID worsens a mental health crisis among children and teens.

According to Mental Health America, 60% of youth with depression do not receive any mental health treatment.

"Sometimes we’ll get parents calling us whose children have been boarding in the emergency room for days saying, ‘What can I do? Where can I go?’" said Sue Abderholden, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota.

For the last year, Abderholden has been flooded with phone calls from parents who feel in the dark.

“We have other parents calling in just worried about their kid’s mental health and not knowing where to start,” she said.

The pandemic amped up mental health challenges for children, increasing NAMI Minnesota’s demand by nearly 25% when supply is an issue across the board.

“We don’t have enough inpatient beds. We don’t have enough partial hospitalization or day treatment programs. We’ve lost many residential treatment beds in Minnesota over the last decade, and we have a shortage of mental health professionals,” Abderholden said.

Children’s Minnesota added a new mental health program giving teens more access to intensive care at Children’s Minnesota Specialty Center in Lakeville.

“The need for acute mental health, in general, has been increasing, so the number of patients visiting our emergency rooms, the number of patients that end up going to our to the inpatient units,” said Dr. Joel Spalding, Children’s Minnesota medical director of psychiatry.

The new addition is a partial hospital program that allows patients to receive care during the day and return home on nights and weekends.

“I think it’s tremendous. I think that that sort of huge advantage over the inpatient units where they are stuck there, they’re learning their skills but they’re not getting as much opportunity to practice their skills,” Spalding said.

Abderholden said the program will help alleviate some pressure on the children’s mental health system that’s in high demand.

Mental health experts said it’s important both loved ones, community members and teachers can identify the signs when a child or teen needs help.

If you or a loved one needs help, contact the Children’s Minnesota Specialty Center in Lakeville at 952-992-6750 or NAMI Minnesota Helpline 651-645-2948.