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When Wait Times Are Long: Brief Mental Health Interventions

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For many Illinois families, mental health services are difficult to access and wait times are long. During this season last year, 40% of Illinois behavioral health centers had stopped accepting new patients with over 9,300 individuals on waiting lists for behavioral health services, according to a Chicago Tribune article. Primary care providers are in a key position to help their patients manage mental health symptoms while waiting for services. According to the AAP, because primary care pediatricians see their patients long term, they have a unique opportunity to develop trust and an empowering relationship with patients and families to help promote social-emotional health. There are many parallels in mental health services that can be adapted for the primary care setting, such as brief counseling interventions and addressing social determinants of health (1).

In non-emergencies, there are many brief interventions that a provider can use such as screening tools and creating a symptom management plan with their patients. In addition, certain evidence-based approaches such as teaching relaxation skills can help children manage stress and build their resilience.  Parents struggling with a child’s disruptive behavior and oppositional problems may benefit from learning more about parent-management training. Ensuring that appropriate accommodations for a mental health condition are being provided through schools can be a powerful intervention as well. Primary care providers can advocate with schools and help initiate a suitable 504 plan, if necessary.

Illinois DocAssist has many treatment resources available for your practice, including best approaches for diagnosing and treating a variety of mental health disorders. If you need assistance with one of your pediatric or perinatal patients who are experiencing long wait times for mental health treatment, please call one of our consultants for help. Additionally, our team of social workers can assist you with locating the best available treatment options for your patient.

1) Foy, J. M., Green, C. M., & Earls, M. F. (2019). Mental Health Competencies for Pediatric Practice. Pediatrics, 144(5), e20192757.