Mental health needs money but also a greater focus in schools and doctors' offices, experts say

01/30/2013 07:04 PM

Helping Kentuckians with mental health needs — especially children — isn’t just a matter of more money. Its effectiveness could hinge on the ability to get teachers and doctors to identify children who need help and make sure they get it, two experts said on Pure Politics Tuesday.

About 50 percent of mental illnesses begin to manifest themselves before a person turns 14.

Mental health experts say it’s often more effective and efficient to treat children (See below for 2011 figures in Kentucky). For instance, it’s easier for parents to make sure their children get help, than it is for someone to convince or coerce an adult exhibiting symptoms that he needs treatment, said Dr. Allen Brenzel, a child psychiatrist.

Brenzel, who works at the University of Kentucky and for the state Health and Family Services Cabinet, said the major challenge now is to encourage parents, school officials and — perhaps most importantly — doctors to help identify children with mental health needs.

“You have an office full of patients … and then the parent comes in and says, ‘I want to talk about my child who’s not doing well in school.’ That’s a challenging environment in primary care,” Brenzel said (1:00 of the video). “But people trust their primary care providers very often, and that is where they go. So some of what we need to look at is co-location of services.”

Steve Shannon, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Mental Health/Mental Retardation Programs, said the 14 mental health centers across Kentucky also can use more resources.

“People aren’t being turned away but … they may wait longer to be seen. There is a resource issue that impacts a center’s ability to be responsive. If you get the call and you follow up, you may be seen in 14 days instead of three days,” Shannon said (3:50)

Watch their discussion:

But both said the key isn’t government intervention or publicly-funded mental health centers. It’s broader changes.

Shannon and Brenzel offered their final thoughts, including that we have

“One of the things they tell us is that they feel estranged from adults,” Brenzel said. Hear why at 1:50 of the second part:

In terms of resources, Kentucky spent nearly a half billion dollars on mental health for young people under 21 in fiscal year 2011. For adults, the state spent more than $730 million, according to figures from the Kentucky Health and Family Services Cabinet.

On average, it was more than $2,000 cheaper per person to treat a child than an adult. It amounted to $4,328 per child compared to more than $6,500 for each adult treated.

About Ryan Alessi

Ryan Alessi joined cn|2 in May 2010 as senior managing editor and host of Pure Politics. He is now pursuing an advanced degree in non-fiction writing from Murray State University and is a regular contributor to Pure Politics. Ryan has covered politics for more than 14 years, including seven years as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Ryan can be reached at purepolitics@twcable.com or @mycn2 on Twitter.

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