Overcoming anxiety about the news

In the wake of the Texas school shooting tragedy, your young patients–and their families–may be experiencing anxiety that can affect normal functioning. That anxiety can manifest in many ways, from reluctance to go to school to increased aggressive tendencies. 

In fact, pediatric primary care providers (PCPs) have been observing the effects of news consumption on their young patients for years now. The spike in anxiety at the beginning of the Covid pandemic is another example. Families may be experiencing trauma as they watch scenes of devastation and displacement in Ukraine. Every act of terrorism or mass violence inspires more fear. The examples go on.

As your families’ trusted PCP, you can influence how patients and families deal with anxiety over recent events and the continuous barrage of bad news that characterizes today’s media culture.

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8 Tips for Working with Mental Health Therapists

Many patients who have mental health conditions need talk therapy in addition to the treatment you provide as the pediatric primary care provider (PCP). If you practice in an area where therapists are available, we hope you have developed referral relationships, as you learned in your REACH training. You may also see patients who are already working with a therapist.

In either case, the communication between you and the therapist makes a huge difference in the quality of care the two of you provide.

To learn how PCPs and therapists can collaborate to improve the mental health of children and adolescents, we talked with clinical psychologist Kevin Stark, PhD, a founder of The REACH Institute’s CATIE program, and pediatrician Hilary Bowers, MD, director of behavioral and mental health services at Children’s Primary Care Medical Group, a large pediatric practice in San Diego and Riverside counties in California.

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New coding guidelines for 2021

2021 brings big changes to coding for mental health visits in pediatric primary care! The new coding guidelines issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reduce the documentation burden and increase the levels of payment (work relative value units or wRVUs).

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Helping children who have lost a parent

More than 40,000 children have lost a parent due to COVID-19. Black children, who constitute 14% of children in the US, are 20% of those who have lost a parent. Chances are good, then, that some of your patients have been through one of the most significant losses they will experience in their whole lives. The support they receive now to grieve in a healthy way can make the difference between their ability to thrive and their descent into adverse outcomes ranging from school failure to death by suicide.

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Helping African-American children with mental health issues

Last week I saw two children, both African American, who were having suicidal thoughts. In neither case did the child or the parents come in asking for mental health support.

One, a 13-year-old girl I’ll call Simone, wrote on her PHQ-9 depression screener that she had attempted suicide. In our interview, she revealed that she had had sex with a man she met online and that she had been cutting herself. Yet the reason she and her parents came in was an ADHD medication check!

Pediatric primary care providers (PCPs) need to realize that African-American families may not seek help for mental health issues. The reasons for the lack of disclosure are rooted in the stigma around mental health in the African-American community. The stigma, in turn, is rooted in the trauma associated with being Black in America.

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Assessment & treatment of eating disorders in adolescents

Eating disorders are life-threatening mental health conditions—and they are not limited to affluent white girls! Eating disorders affect people of lower socioeconomic status, members of non-white ethnic groups, preteen children, and boys. LGBTQIA young people are at particular risk.

DSM-5 defines four main categories of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, along with several atypical disorders.

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Screening for trauma in pediatric primary care

Asked the top three things a pediatric primary care provider (PCP) needs to know about child trauma, Brooks Keeshin, MD, said, “Trauma happens. That’s numbers 1, 2, and 3.”

In fact, up to 80% of children experience trauma by the time they are 18. A large body of evidence indicates that childhood trauma affects physical and mental health, both short term and long term.

Dr. Keeshin, a child abuse pediatrician and child psychiatrist, is developing a new REACH Institute course to teach PCPs to assess and treat child trauma.

“Trauma reactions can look like other mental health conditions,” said Dr. Keeshin. “Traumatic stress can present with symptoms of ADHD, depression, or anxiety. If the pediatrician knows a child has been exposed to trauma, that changes what they do. But first they need to know.”

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Child abuse and neglect

In a study sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10.8% of adults reported having been physically abused as children, and 11.1% reported psychological abuse. Infants and young children are at greater risk than older children; neglect is more commonly reported than physical, psychological, or sexual abuse, according to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System.

As a pediatric primary care provider (PCP), you play a vital role in detecting and preventing child abuse and neglect.

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Helping patients through divorce

“Parents who are going through a divorce really want to believe their children are OK,” said Lisa Blum, PsyD, a licensed clinical therapist on the faculty of The REACH Institute’s CATIE program. “They’re terrified that they’re hurting their kids. So if Sally is doing her homework and Johnny isn’t acting out, the parents think, ‘Whew, good, they’re fine!’ But often they’re not fine.” Though divorce rates in the US have been declining for years – including, according to early reports, during 2020 – the rates are still high. Each divorce or separation brings loss, disruption, and pain to any children involved.

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10 ways to help families through the holidays

If you’re like most pediatric primary care providers (PCPs), you’ve seen an increase in child mental health issues due to COVID. Research shows that the pandemic, with its consequent disruption and isolation, has increased adolescents’ risk of trauma, depression, and anxiety. Families are dealing with grief, the anxiety of whatever “school” means this week or this month, and, in many cases, loss of income. Families of color and low-income families have been hardest hit by the pandemic itself, by the economic and social fallout, and by the attendant impairment of mental health. And now come the holidays.

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