LAS VEGAS — Children and teenagers who need mental health care have less access to services in Nevada than in other states, advocates say.
The nonprofit group Mental Health America ranked Nevada 51st among states and the District of Columbia in seven categories of youths at risk, the Las Vegas Sun reported.
Factors in the group’s September review included psychological and emotional disturbances, substance abuse disorders, major depressive episodes and children for whom private insurance doesn’t cover treatment.
Youth mental health advocate Char Frost in Las Vegas said youth suicide rates are on the rise statewide.
“There are challenges for the state of Nevada, real challenges here in terms of service providers and so on,” Robert Weires, psychological services department director at the Clark County School District, told the Sun.
Frost said her adolescent son began to show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression around 2005, but few local programs train mental health professionals or specialists, other than the School of Social Work at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship at the UNLV School of Medicine.
Almost every provider told her they don’t serve children, and the one that did had a wait of more than three months.
“Our population has been increasing and we just have not been very good about growing our own professionals,” Frost said.
The newspaper reported that youth mental health services in and around Las Vegas were hurt by the closure in August of Montevista Hospital, the area’s largest inpatient mental health provider for youth and adolescents.
But there have been some improvements, including a new inpatient behavioral health facility at Southern Hills Hospital in Las Vegas that can accommodate as many as 20 young people.
Initially designed to serve children from ages 13-17, the youth pavilion now accommodates children as young as 11 and might lower the age limit further, said Dr. David Gennis, program clinical director.
Most young people who use the facility have shown suicidal views or behavioral challenges, Gennis said.
Youths receive therapy, sometimes with their family or another group, to identify factors that trigger destructive behavior. They also get help developing coping skills and regulating their emotions. The average length of a stay is less than five days.
Gennis said connecting families to geographically accessible outpatient therapy services can be difficult.
A new inpatient-to-outpatient transition program for adolescents was expected to give some the opportunity to continue working with their Southern Hills therapists two to three days a week.
“I think there’s an opportunity for us to do a better job with our very young children, to start teaching them how to manage negative or uncomfortable feelings and then how do they express behaviors (and) communicate appropriately,” Gennis said.
Weires said schools have created a mental health transition team for students, but the Sun found that resources are limited and the district faces a shortage of school psychologists, whose duties include evaluating students in crisis, intervening when students show suicidal tendencies, and helping students after inpatient care.
The shortage means school psychologists sometimes cover three schools with little time for anything more than crisis response.
“We can’t go as deep, far and wide with any particular skill sets or services for kids if we’re spread out too thin,” Weires said.
District officials recently allocated $350,000 a year to contract with an outside company, Columbus Educational Services, for 3.5 full-time school psychologists.
In response to a mandate from the Legislature, the district also is working to create a suicide prevention plan that Weires said will involve strengthening relationships among psychologists, counselors, nurses and other specialists.
Frost, who is also government affairs manager at United Citizens Foundation, said community organizations can help.
The nonprofit delivers therapy to students during the school day because time after-school for working families can be filled with homework, dinner and other activities.
Gennis said reducing stigma and reminding parents that mental health problems are no one’s fault remains key to addressing the issue.