Why Pediatricians Are On the Front Lines of the Youth Mental Health Crisis

Why Pediatricians Are On the Front Lines of the Youth Mental Health Crisis

Pediatricians, family physicians, and ER doctors across the country are seeing a dramatic rise in the number of adolescent patients suffering from mental health symptoms. Statistics from 2022 show that 15 percent of US teens have had a major depressive episode and 40 percent struggle with anxiety. Due to the shortage of psychologists and therapists serving young people, ERs and doctor’s offices are often the only places teen and young adult patients can go to get help.

Moreover, family doctors and pediatricians are among the most trusted advisors that parents turn to when their children are in crisis. In Newport Healthcare’s recent survey of 1,000 parents, nearly 60 percent said they would go to their doctor to talk about teen mental health treatment before they would talk to a mental health provider, a school guidance counselor, or even a close friend. But through no fault of their own, physicians don’t always have the experience or resources to provide the support that’s needed.

The Dramatic Rise in Doctor and ER Visits for Teen Mental Health

While the isolation, anxiety, and loss associated with the pandemic have magnified the youth mental health crisis, the decline in adolescent well-being began long before 2020. By 2019, mental health disorders had surpassed physical problems as the most common causes of adolescent “impairment and limitation,” according to a report issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Meanwhile, treatment options for teens have become increasingly limited. The number of adolescent residential care facilities has fallen by 30 percent since 2012. In addition, more than 70 percent of US counties do not have a child or adolescent psychiatrist. As a result, 85 percent of primary care practices are having difficulty accessing behavioral healthcare resources for their patients.

That means more young people showing up in ERs or pediatrician’s offices with non-physical issues. A CDC study earlier this year found that weekly emergency room visits among teen girls have increased for five mental health conditions, including anxiety, trauma and stress, eating disorders, tic disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Teen mental health emergency room visits overall also increased. As the AAP report stated, “pediatricians need to take on a larger role in addressing mental health problems. Yet, the majority of pediatricians do not feel prepared to do so.”

A Lack of Resources for Addressing an Unprecedented Crisis

Over the past decade and more, pediatricians trained to handle ear infections, strep throat, and rashes have faced steadily growing numbers of teens and pre-teens presenting with symptoms of anxiety, depression, self-harm, and eating disorders. Physicians can often do little beyond prescribing medication, offering basic self-care approaches, and trying their best to find affordable mental health treatment options for families. In overcrowded emergency rooms, ER doctors are sometimes forced to keep adolescent patients in the ER for days, or in inpatient units for even longer, as case managers struggle to find places for them in residential or outpatient care.

To better equip themselves for this changing healthcare landscape, many doctors have used whatever time they can spare from their packed appointment schedules to pursue continuing education in psychiatric disorders and mental health treatment. (Newport Healthcare offers ongoing CE and CME trainings: View the schedule here.) Some healthcare systems are creating structures to support integrated behavioral healthcare—connecting pediatricians, mental health specialists, nurses, and social workers to confer on assessments and treatment for patients’ medical and psychiatric care. However, establishing these structures requires investments of both time and money.

Our health care system today is not set up to optimally support the mental health and wellbeing of children and youth. We must reimagine how health care organizations and health professionals prevent, identify, and address mental health challenges.

US Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, MD, in his Protecting Youth Mental Health advisory

How Newport Supports Referring Physicians

At Newport Healthcare, we’ve already built the networks that support pediatricians and other healthcare providers. As part of our integrated approach to mental healthcare, we prioritize building trusting and mutually supportive relationships with referring healthcare providers. Our team works hand in hand with physicians so their teen and young adult patients who come to us—whether they’re struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, or another mental health diagnosis—experience an easy and supported process.

Our full continuum of care for ages 12–28 includes residential treatment centers and a full suite of outpatient programming. With locations nationwide and new programs continually in development across the country, we’re able to provide either in-person or virtual assessments, quickly get patients into the appropriate treatment program, and shift them seamlessly between levels of care as needed. If Newport is not the right fit for a patient, we can recommend another program that we have personally vetted.

Newport’s Clinical Outreach Specialists and Primary Therapists serve as primary points of contact for referring healthcare providers, ensuring that they receive information about their patient’s admissions process, progress during treatment, and discharge plan. When doctors refer to us, they also connect with our integrated team of medical and psychiatric professionals who can serve as a resource for their practice or hospital.As part of our community, physicians also have access to CME courses, customized trainings for their organization, and virtual and in-person networking events.

To learn more about how our Clinical Outreach Team can support you and the patients and families you serve, contact us at NationalClinicalOutreach@newportacademy.com.


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  • Annals of Family Medicine. 2022 Jan; 20(1): 42–50
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  • Morgan Stanley Alliance for Children's Mental Health
  • Mental Health America
  • National Mental Health Services Survey