About 20 percent of kids and teens are struggling with some sort of mental health challenge. As part of our continuing Fit Kids February coverage, our Health Reporter Erin Billups looks at one pediatric program that aims to intervene before the child gets out of control.
The stress of tests and mounting schoolwork began to take a toll on 10-year old Jaylene Santiago.
"Sometimes, I feel like I can't hold my crying or sometimes my face turns red, and I start having all these thoughts that I'm not going to pass it," she says.
Jaylene received a mental health screening during a visit to her pediatrician, and was then referred to a child psychologist.
"Dr. Liz saw her, actually the same day; she was able to see her once the referral was put into the system," says Jaylene’s mother Jillian Ocasio.
They are part of Montefiore Medical Center's Behavioral Health Integration Program, where psychologists and psychiatrists share practice space and patients with pediatricians.
"Every child accesses primary care at some point in their life. So we figure why not bring these services where children and families are," says Rahil Briggs, psychologist and director of Montefiore Pediatric Behavioral Health Services.
Jaylene says it has helped a lot.
"She tells me to do this thing that's from Nemo that Dory says ‘just keep swimming’ and take deep breaths and sometimes during the test that's what I do. And I say I can do this to have confidence in myself," she says.
On top of helping kids cope with anxiety or depression, the program focuses on identifying children who may be exposed to toxic stress - ongoing, unrelenting stress, like domestic violence or homelessness.
"It actually affects the architecture of the developing brain,” says Briggs. “So parts of their brain, for example, that are related to learning and memory aren’t as activated, whereas parts of their brain that are related to aggression or fear are more activated."
As a result, children may have difficulty managing their emotions.
"They start having issues of behavior. Like hitting, or hitting other kids or having problems sleeping at night time or having separation issues," says Dr. Sylvia Lim, a pediatrician at Montefiore.
The integrated care team at Montefiore has found that being in the same location also helps to counteract the stigma associated with mental health.
"It really normalizes that we all have different health needs and some of those might be mental, some of those might be physical. It varies," says Montefiore pediatric psychologist Dana Crawfowd.
Through the program, Montefiore's doctors perform mental health screenings on all of their 100,000 patients aged zero to 18.
During the month of February, Time Warner Cable News is committed to informing our viewers of the sometimes alarming trends facing our kids' health as well as provide helpful tips for busy parents. Get more information on Fit Kids February, including the Fit Kids Challenge, healthy shopping suggestions and ways you can get involved to help make you and your children healthier!