Carefully crafted digital approaches can improve youths’ mental health care – STAT

In the face of a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health, urgent measures are needed to help those in need. Many struggling youths and teens do not receive age-appropriate, timely, and affordable mental health care today.

Training more mental health professionals is part of the solution, but that takes time. Digital health approaches can be developed more quickly, though they have not received the same kind of attention from investors as options for adult mental health, which have seen enormous investment over the past few years.

The current annual spending on youth mental health in the United States is $3 billion, covering 5 million patients per year, according to an analysis conducted by Menlo Ventures, the company we work for.


The status quo for youth mental health remains a combination of individual, face-to-face psychotherapy (talk therapy) and prescription medications like antidepressants and anti-anxiety agents. Mental health care for youths suffers from a lack of coordination between child-serving systems and cost concerns, with major youth-specific issues that include access to care, complex stakeholder relationships, and government regulations and funding.

Barriers to access. One major barrier to access to care is the lack of providers. Children are not small adults, and only a fraction of therapists are trained to treat children. Currently, there are only 8,000 child and adolescent psychiatrists in the U.S. That’s 10 child psychiatrists per 100,000 children vs. the estimated demand, which is 47 child psychiatrists per 100,000. Psychiatrists, and others qualified to help, such as licensed social workers, licensed family therapists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and others are also concentrated in metropolitan areas, leaving 70% of American counties without an appropriate provider. The result is significant travel distances to receive care and wait times to see a provider that average 7.5 weeks.


Coordination of care. Effective outcomes require not only that treatment be specialized for youths. They also require youth-specific coordination and continuity of care across stakeholders that include parents, school systems, and pediatricians. Pediatricians and schools can have a significant influence on kids and families but are not well-integrated into traditional youth mental health efforts.

Government regulations and funding. Before Covid-19, telemedicine regulations severely limited virtual care for youth mental health. Many changes were implemented during the pandemic, including waivers of state-specific licensing requirements to provide care, exemptions to prescribing, HIPAA rules …….


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