“We are in a national emergency”

CINCINNATI — May marks Mental Health Awareness Month, and WCPO 9 is partnering with Cincinnati Children’s to explore issues and innovations in children’s mental health. The director of the hospital’s psychiatric division says America is in the midst of a children’s mental health crisis.

“We are in a national emergency,” said Dr Michael Sorter.

Sorter is just one of 10,597 child psychiatrists in the United States. That sounds more than enough, but Dr Sorter says one in five children are diagnosed with some sort of mental health problem.

“The demand on the system is much greater,” he said.

State data from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry shows that Ohio has only about 13 practicing child and adolescent psychiatrists per 100,000 children.

In Kentucky it’s 10 per 100,000 children and Indiana has 7 per 100,000 children.

And the three states are not alone in facing this problem: 86% of the United States suffers from a serious shortage of child psychiatrists.

“We’re one of the biggest providers in the country for this and you can really look at almost any pediatric ER in the country, the same problem is there,” Dr. Sorter said. “Children in crisis are not getting the care they need and are waiting.”

There has always been a smaller number of residents going into the field of child psychiatry. Last year, the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology issued more than 1,800 certificates in psychiatry. The board awarded a quarter for the sub-specialty of child and adolescent psychiatry.

Couple this staffing shortage with issues like the opioid crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

“There hasn’t been this type of way to approach this yet to really heal these wounds,” Dr. Sorter said. “So we’re really seeing things getting worse in a lot of ways in terms of anxiety, depression, developmental issues in children and really dealing with the challenges of school and social interaction.”

He warns that the consequences are dire if we don’t get this under control.

“The worst outcomes are of course young people dying. And suicide has really increased over time and is now the second leading cause of death among young people,” he said.

But with Cincinnati Children’s adding a mandatory mental health program for its pediatric residents and building a new state-of-the-art behavioral health facility slated to open later this year, Sorter hopes more parents will look for help that actually has the resources they need for their children.

“This acceptance that we’re seeing is more global really gives me reason to be optimistic,” Dr Sorter said.

If you need help finding mental health resources for your child, you can call the Cincinnati Children’s Psychiatric Intake Response Center (PIRC) at 513-636-4124. If it’s late, you can call the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.

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WCPO 9 News at 6 p.m.

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