Watch Panel on Childrens' Mental Health in Rhode Island

Rhode Island Monthly, Rhode Island PBS and the Rhode Island Foundation worked together to produce “Kids’ Mental Health: A Road Map to Stronger Minds,” airing on Rhode Island PBS on May 19 at 8 p.m.

Last night, Rhode Island Monthly, Rhode Island PBS and the Rhode Island Foundation worked together to produce “Kids’ Mental Health: A Road Map to Stronger Minds,” a panel on kids’ mental health in Rhode Island. The conversation will be televised on Rhode Island PBS on May 19 at 8 p.m., and it discusses how Rhode Island is handling the increase in diagnosable mental illnesses in children. One in five children in Rhode Island has been diagnosed with mental illness, and yet, according to Dr. Gregory Fritz, president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and director of Bradley Hospital, 70 to 80 percent of those children who have diagnosable illnesses are not getting any treatment at all.

The panel discussion was moderated by Rhode Island Monthly associate editor Casey Nilsson and involved guest panelists Dr. Gregory Fritz; Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health; Dr. Elizabeth Lowenhaupt, a child and adolescent psychiatrist for Lifespan Physician Group and Rhode Island Hospital, and president of the Rhode Island Council for Child and Adolescent Psychology; and Lisa Conlan Lewis, executive director of the Parent Support Network of Rhode Island.

The panel discussion gets into the nitty gritty issues facing our mental healthcare system; long wait lists for children to see child psychiatrists, the increase in diagnoses and the decrease in community mental health centers, the need to do more in our own public school system to prevent situations like bullying; plus, the goal to provide a nurturing adult to those children who may not have one in their lives.

Fritz says the increase in diagnosable mental health issues has to do somewhat with a decreased stigma on mental illness. “People are less hesitant to come forward and look for help,” he says. And while more families are seeking help, our system is failing to provide adequate community resources for the growing numbers of children seeking care. “Wait times are long, and availability of lower level care is diminished, as has happened in the past decade at community health centers,” says Fritz. “There are less options, and so kids often end up in emergency rooms more and more, in serious trouble, where hospitalization is needed.”

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth and young adults in Rhode Island. “Unfortunately, in Rhode Island, since 2008, we’ve lost over 102 suicides between the ages of ten and twenty-four. It is something we can work towards preventing together,” says Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott. “Being able to intervene and interrupt the isolation that’s oftentimes associated with suicide and mental concerns by intervening with the families and making sure supports are in place, and partnering with providers that can help improve the situation for a child who might be at risk of suicide, are all important interventions that the department, in collaboration with providers and other partners throughout the state are working to address and better understand.”

Rhode Island is on the forefront of childrens’ mental health in many ways. Bradley Hospital is the nation’s first psychiatric hospital for children, and people come from all over the country for treatment there. The PBS special shares one family’s story about their struggle with mental illness involving their twin daughters, and explains how Bradley motivated them to pack up and drive across the country from Kansas to Rhode Island, to help change their lives for the better.

Conlan Lewis also spoke about the importance of having a parent support network, which provides socio-emotional support for families. The group facilitates a Warm Line for parents to call and connect with peers who have experienced similar situations.

Of course, more can be done. Learn what Rhode Island is doing about it. Tune in to PBS on May 19 at 8 p.m. to watch the panel discussion and learn more.