The crisis facing the nation’s youth is all too apparent, and the numbers are staggering. In 2019, one third of high school students had experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness—up 40% since 2009, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The pandemic has only added fuel to that fire. Depression and anxiety in youth doubled during the pandemic. In September 2020, over half of 11 to 17-year-olds reported thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
“Many more kids need help, and the growth in demand is far outpacing the availability of services,” says Harsh K. Trivedi, MD, MBA, president and chief executive officer of Sheppard Pratt.
There’s no quick solution to curb the crisis. It will take a thoughtful and comprehensive response. “Communities across the country are struggling to figure this out, but the reality is there isn’t one thing that will fix everything,” Trivedi says. However, kids are resilient, Trivedi adds —and he believes there is hope when it comes to helping kids who are struggling.
Expanding Access to Behavioral Health Services
Sheppard Pratt is actively engaged to change the face of youth mental health. They have built a comprehensive continuum of care and are reimagining the way that young people and their families access mental health services, at all levels of care.
“As a society, we would never let a child with cancer or a congenital heart defect go without care, and youth with mental health needs deserve the same access to life-saving care,” Trivedi adds. “We’re at a point where the need is so urgent, we all need to be part of the solution.”
The LifeLaunch at Sheppard Pratt
As the largest private, nonprofit provider of mental health and substance use services, Sheppard Pratt offers the complete continuum of care for children and adolescents, including inpatient, outpatient, residential, and crisis services. “The magic of Sheppard Pratt is not just providing the level of care that a patient needs but having it built at scale so that it’s available and accessible when a person wants help,” Trivedi says.
Among those services is the one-of-a-kind LifeLaunch program, a short-term residential program for teens with depression, anxiety, and other mental health diagnoses. The LifeLaunch provides comprehensive and clinically intensive evidence-based treatments in a full-service setting. Teens stay up to three months, though the typical stay is three to five weeks. During that time, they receive tailored treatments from a team of providers who work in partnership with the teens’ families and schools. “We created The LifeLaunch to get kids back on track,” Trivedi says. “We’re diagnosis agnostic. Kids come in with a variety of needs, and their treatment teams get to work helping them learn new skills and remove the barriers that have prevented them from thriving.”
Sheppard Pratt offers the most comprehensive range of services for youth. “We have more services, by far, than any children’s hospital in the country for kids with behavioral health needs,” Trivedi says. “Our goal is to provide world-class, high quality care, combined with ongoing research and discovery to advance care, innovation, and best-practice implementation to propel the field forward. We also provide education and training for physicians, nurses, therapists, and all mental health professionals to prepare the next generation of providers.”
“We aim to improve children’s mental health in communities not only in Maryland and the Washington, D.C. region, but across the nation,” he adds.
Reaching Youth in Crisis
Sheppard Pratt’s commitment to thinking broadly is evident in the range of services it provides within communities across the state. Those programs and partnerships reach youth through a variety of avenues, including:
- Providing Sheppard Pratt’s own dedicated Early Head Start program
- Treating preschoolers with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)
- Offering domestic violence shelters and support services to help kids exposed to trauma and violence
- Helping teen moms complete their education while learning to take care of their children
- Providing special education services
In fact, Sheppard Pratt is the largest provider of special education in the state, affording educational opportunities to youth on the autism spectrum and those with other behavioral, academic, and social-emotional learning needs.
Experts are also keenly aware of racial disparities in mental health outcomes and treatment. BIPOC youth are more likely to experience trauma and stress from systemic racism, yet they also face more obstacles to receiving care or maintaining positive mental health. Sheppard Pratt is committed to caring for all youth, including those from vulnerable backgrounds. “We take care of every child and have built wraparound services to meet their needs at every step,” Trivedi says.
During the pandemic, social workers dropped off book bags and meals to families and helped them find emergency housing. They have distributed diapers and provided broadband internet access so more people could access virtual care. “We take a holistic approach because we know that addressing social determinants of health are prerequisites to making progress in mental health treatment,” he says.
Evidence-Based Mental Health Treatment
Unfortunately, there is significant variability in the quality of treatment programs for youth across the nation. “At a time when there are so many young people struggling, parents are grasping at whatever services they can find, and seeing anyone who has an available appointment,” Trivedi says. “When families come to Sheppard Pratt, they can rest assured that they will be working with the best experts to receive evidence-based care in a welcoming and compassionate environment.”
When a child is struggling, it can be hard to know what step to take next—not only for parents, but also for providers. “One of the hardest things in mental health is knowing exactly what someone needs, so we’ve created a referral line that any provider or parent can use,” Trivedi says. “Our specialists will review cases and provide a white-glove interaction to make sure each child gets into the right program. Regardless of what’s going on, chances are we have a program to address it and have been doing it for many years.”
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