Mental Health: It Takes a Village

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Children's View

Tami D. Benton, MD Tami D. Benton, MD, has led CHOP’s Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences as Executive Director, Chair and Psychiatrist-in-Chief since 2010, and she now also leads the 10,000-member American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychology (AACAP) as its president. We recently caught up with Dr. Benton.

Q: Congratulations on assuming the presidency of AACAP. How will you use this national platform?

A: It will be an opportunity to influence and shape national policy and advocate on behalf of children's mental health. My presidential initiative is called Bringing the Village to the Children, which focuses on addressing the mental health crisis through partnering with other organizations and places where children are. It's partnerships with schools, pediatric primary care offices, social service agencies, the juvenile justice system, recreational programs and faith-based communities. To make progress, we all need to come together to influence policy and practice around children's mental health.

Q: What needs to change?

A: We will be seeking to enforce the federal parity law that requires mental healthcare to be treated the same as medical/surgical healthcare by insurers. That’s not always the case now. We will also advocate for increased reimbursements for Medicaid patients, which has a big impact on us.

More generally, there’s a misperception that mental health is somehow separate from your physical health. It’s not. Our CEO, Madeline Bell, is a proponent of our belief that mental health is health. Just like kids need preventive care with vaccines and eye exams, they also need preventive care around mental health, like learning how to reduce stress and manage emotions. They need to get care where they are. That’s why CHOP integrated behavioral health in our primary care offices with the Healthy Minds, Healthy Kids program and added mental health specialists in the emergency room. That’s also why we’re expanding our collaboration with schools to incorporate mental health there.

Q: What else will help stem the mental health crisis?

A: It's all about the continuum of care: providing the right care in the right place at the right time. If we can catch a mental health issue early — at school or in primary care — and provide intervention, many children can get back on track quickly. Some children may need additional therapy once a week for a few months; others will require more intensive treatment through a day program, where they spend five or six hours a day in therapy for several weeks or months. The Center for Advanced Behavioral Healthcare, which opened in July 2022, gave us the space to begin those more intensive therapies. And early next year, CHOP will be able to offer the highest level of care: inpatient treatment.

Q: Explain what’s coming.

A: CHOP will open the Behavioral Health and Crisis Center, which will have a 24/7 walk-in “emergency room” for children and youth experiencing a mental health crisis. They’ll be evaluated and receive stabilizing treatment. It will also have 46 licensed psychiatric inpatient beds. Children will have comprehensive treatment in a safe, nurturing environment. Therapy will build on their strengths, so they can return home with the strategies and skills to work through their emotions in a more positive way. It’s very exciting as these services are greatly needed in Philadelphia.

Q: When you look to the future of child and youth mental health, what do you see?

A: I’m hopeful. Recognition is growing that there is no health without mental health. Brave athletes have revealed their mental health struggles. So many young people talk about their mental health now. The stigma is lessening. CHOP needs to continue to invest in expanding access to mental health services to more youth by building technology for telehealth visits and growing our talent. We are making progress, but the need is still great, and we need to respond.

To learn about gift opportunities for mental health services, contact Associate Vice President, Institutional and Events Fundraising Dana Raftas at raftasd@chop.edu.