Over the past several months, Illinois DocAssist has provided information about how to screen for different mental health issues as a primary care provider. But what happens after the issues are identified? Unfortunately, wait times for mental health services can be long, especially for psychiatric and neurodevelopmental specialties.
Here are some recommendations to help reduce both primary care provider burden and family distress.
1. Call DocAssist. Speak with a psychiatric consultant to begin treatment in your office while waiting for psychiatric outpatient services to begin. You can schedule regular follow-up calls with DocAssist to guide you with medications, therapeutic issues, and more.
2. Provide anticipatory guidance. Explain to patients and their families about the wait times for psychiatric outpatient services, and encourage them to keep scheduled psychiatric appointments. Include a discussion about how therapy and psychotropic medications take time to work. Therapy is often the first line of treatment. With regular attendance for therapy and with daily compliance taking medication, improvement occurs faster. Have families sign consent for you to speak with the referred psychiatric service person or agency.
3. Maximize use of resources. Research has shown that exercise, adequate sleep, good nutrition, and playing a musical instrument can help alleviate symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Often local park districts have activities for children to promote exercise and wellness, and music. Reinforce a regular bedtime hour and bedtime routines. Explain ways to substitute healthy snacks for unhealthy ones.
4. Support school advocacy. Encourage the parent to advocate for their child in the school setting to ensure their needs are being met. It may be helpful to write a letter to the school as the child’s healthcare provider discussing the child’s diagnosis and the importance of accommodations. Keep templates for school letter on your computer for easy access. For assistance in working with schools and steps to help families advocate for services, contact Illinois DocAssist for a consultation at 866-986-2778.
5. Identify electronic support. With the advancement of technology, mental health applications are available through a patient or family’s computer, tablet, or smart phone. Some of these applications can assist in managing symptoms of anxiety and depression. The Illinois DocAssist website has resources that can help you discuss the use of technology for symptom management with your patient and their family.
6. Encourage use of support groups. While your patient is often the child, the parents and caregivers can also struggle with the impact of mental illness on their family. Support groups are also available to assist in gaining information and resources around their child’s mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) provides a free evidence based educational program for families dealing with mental health issues. To find the NAMI location near you and learn about support services available visit their website. Children and Adults with AttentionDeficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) provides free webinars for families regarding different aspects of ADHD in children and adolescents.