U.S. is 20,000 Short on Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists

by Dr. Paramjit Joshi

According to the latest numbers at least 1 in 5 American youth live with a serious mental disorder—a dramatic increase from ten years ago. Of that number, only about 20 percent receive evaluation and treatment by a medical professional, with only a fraction ever having the opportunity to meet with a specialist.

Despite three decades of bi-partisan supported policy initiatives, Congress has never funded any provision to address the critical shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists (CAPs).

We can no longer sit back and watch this vulnerable population suffer in silence.  Congress must act now to renew and fund H.R. 1827, “The Pediatric Subspecialty and Mental Health Workforce Reauthorization Act of 2013,” a critical Public Health Service Act provision.

Estimates place the growing necessity for CAPs at over 30,000. However, many graduating physicians choose other specialties because of the staggering debt upon graduation. As a result, there are only 8,300 practicing CAPs available to meet the needs of more than 75 million children across the nation, a number exacerbated by the rising median age at 53 years.

Current average wait times of 7.5 weeks for any psychiatric evaluation or treatment clearly illustrate the urgent need for workforce expansion. Evaluations suggest these delayed mental health services cost the nation $247 billion annually through lost productivity, crime and the utilization of other health care venues such as emergency rooms. Without action, extensive delays will also prolong assessments, diagnoses, and treatments that can carry serious and even life threatening consequences.

H.R. 1827 offers a simple solution: provide loan relief programs for CAPs working full-time with medically underserved populations.

H.R. 1827 re-authorizes the “Investment in Tomorrow’s Pediatric Health Care Workforce” program, sponsored by Representative Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), which recommends appropriations of $50 million annually for pediatric subspecialty workforce growth, with up to $20 million each year specifically designated to increase numbers of CAPs.

As a mother and a medical doctor, I share the despair of every family who searches endlessly for answers—only to learn that few resources exist to help them and their children. I urge all lawmakers: Demonstrate your commitment to America’s youth by ensuring they have access to quality mental health services. Support and fund H.R. 1827 today.

Dr. Joshi is President of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, as well as Division Chair of Behavioral Medicine, and Director of the Psychiatry and Psychology programs at Children’s National Health System. She has more than 25 years of experience as a child and adolescent psychiatrist.

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