Program helps Missouri pediatricians treat mental health

COLUMBIA, Mo. — A Missouri program is trying to help pediatricians combat a growing mental health crisis. 

The Missouri Child Psychiatry Access Project (MO-CPAP) is aimed at primary care providers to help them give the best mental health resources to their patients, and it’s all done by phone within 30 minutes of a request. 

Dr. Alexandra James has been a pediatrician for more than a decade. She currently works for MU Health Care in Columbia. 

“Just to have that in your back pocket for free, I wish we did it for every possible specialty there was,” James said. 

She has a tool to help her provide the best care when a patient or member of their family comes in with mental health concerns. 

“I’m able to reach out to them in a very quick and efficient manner, get that information, get the course of what I should be doing for this patient, and get them on their way,” James said. “This has been very effective for my practice.”

She’s talking about MO-CPAP. It’s a consultation over the phone with a child psychiatrist who will provide providers with resources, options, and a treatment plan. Before this program, James found herself looking through old notes in her office between patients. 

“I would run back into my office and furiously search through the textbook and be like, okay, I remember this and this, and then you run back to the clinic and then try to deliver the best care you can,” James said. 

Dr. Laine Young-Walker, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and chair of the University of Missouri School of Psychiatry, oversees the program. She said MO-CPAP helps fight the child psychiatrist shortage. 

“So one child psychiatrist now is helping a thousand kids but not having to see everyone,” Young-Walker said. “I think it’s an excellent thing to help with the mental health crisis that we are dealing with.”

Young-Walker said the need for child psychiatrists is even greater following COVID-19. 

“We have seen rising numbers of children with anxiety disorders, depression, more children and adolescents that need mental health treatment since the pandemic,” Young-Walker said. “Many primary care providers don’t have a lot of mental health training, so they feel uncomfortable, and when they see a kid with challenges, they refer them to a psychiatrist, and then they have a six-month wait.”

The phone calls that come from providers across the state are all answered in St. Louis at the Behavioral Health Response facility. Wendy Ell, the project coordinator for MO-CPAP, said the average age of consultations is 12, but the program has received requests for patients as young as 2 and as old as 21. 

“We know that many families prefer to get their mental health treatment or keep that care with their pediatrician or their primary care provider, they often feel more trusting,” Ell said. 

Since the program started in 2018, Ell said MO-CPAP has served more than 2,000 consultations. She said the program was created to address mild to moderate behavioral health concerns. 

There are more major pieces to the project. First is immediate care, responding to a provider within 30 minutes of their request. The 1-800 number is available Monday through Friday. Second, that same number can provide resources and referrals for patients in their community. Another is education for the provider. MO-CPAP offers resources and lectures online regarding ADHD, depression, and anxiety. The final piece is support coordination, in which a coordinator engages with the family to discuss treatment. 

Young-Walker did say there is some progress in the mental health crisis because people are not as afraid to talk about it. 

“One thing that’s a definite improvement is the reduction of stigma and people being willing to seek help,” Young-Walker said. “Acknowledging when there is a problem and seeking help, like if your child all of a sudden is never talking, appearing to be sad, or you’re seeing some change in behavior, it doesn’t hurt to ask somebody.”

MO-CPAP is offered through the University of Missouri School of Medicine and receives grants from the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

The program is free for providers as long as they sign up. You can find more information on Mizzou’s website