Behavioral health challenges are the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people, with depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation among children growing every year. Rady Children’s leaders in 2015 set forth a strategic plan to transform mental health by treating the whole child, integrating physical and behavioral health. Leaders also met informally with a group of 20 local health academics, pediatricians, psychologists, social workers and other community members over the course of two years to develop a multi-pronged model for early detection and treatment of behavioral health needs in young people.
Behavioral health challenges are the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people, with depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation among children growing every year.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 50% of all lifetime mental illness begin by age 14, and 75% appear by 24. Identifying and treating these illnesses early in life, typically before formal diagnosis, can change the trajectory of a person’s health.
Young patients, however, can face access hurdles. Pediatricians typically don’t have significant behavioral health training, and behavioral health providers often have long wait times for new patients. The emergency department (ED) is often the first point of treatment for young people struggling with acute behavioral health crises.
Leaders at Rady Children’s Hospital - San Diego, faced with their own community behavioral health crisis, knew this well. Between 2011 and 2015, the number of children presenting to the ED for behavioral health concerns at Rady Children’s Hospital rose by 500%. They also saw alarming trends among children in their ED, some as young as six years of age, who had attempted suicide or had suicidal thoughts. From 2018 to 2022, the number of children in their ED presenting with suicidal ideation rose by 161%. The Rady Children’s team knew that they needed to act.