Fayetteville mental health professionals hope a new inpatient unit at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center will help teens facing issues made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Sree Jadapalle, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, said the demand for child and adolescent mental health care has been heightened since the start of the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, she said she saw about five children a week, but now she treats between five and 15 children a day.
In October, a national state of emergency in Children’s Mental Health has been published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association.
Two months later, the US Surgeon General issued a advisory on the mental health crisis.
Opening of Dorothea Dix Adolescent Care
In March, a new inpatient mental health crisis unit for children ages 13 to 17, called Dorothea Dix Adolescent Care, was added to the Cape Fear Valley Medical Center campus. Adding the 16-bed facility cost the medical center about $4 million, Jadapalle said, and was funded by the state.
John Bigger, director of behavioral health and sleep medicine at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, said that before Dorothea Dix Adolescent Care opened, the nearest hospital facility was nearly 75 miles away.
Bigger said that before the pandemic, Cumberland County needed an adolescent inpatient unit.
“Then when you add in the pandemic, it created a huge challenge,” he said. “Adolescence is that crucial time when you determine your identity.”
Bigger said when the pandemic hit, many children were stuck at home, unable to socialize or get out of the house, which contributed to the mental health crisis.
Many children struggled to figure out how to function in a society that limited their ability to socialize, he said.
Bigger said a team of mental health professionals at the clinic help teenage patients focus on themselves during their stay. Children can end up in the inpatient unit for a number of reasons, he said.
Criteria for admission to the inpatient unit are self-harm and/or thoughts of harming others, Bigger said.
“The No. 1 diagnosis will be major depression and mood disorders,” he said.
Depression can be caused by a variety of things, such as genetic disease or past trauma, Bigger said.
When a child suffers, the whole family suffers, Jadapalle said.
A symptom of anxiety or depression in children and teens is when they stop being able to participate in daily activities, such as going to school, Jadapalle said.
Traumatic events such as death, bullying, domestic violence and/or sexual assault can all cause mental health issues, she said.
The inpatient unit, made up of psychiatrists, psychotherapists and recreational therapists, helps children thrive through positive self-affirmation, therapy and/or medication, if needed, Bigger said.
On average, there are five children and 10 employees on site at any given time, he said.
The teen unit can accommodate 16 patients at a time, he said. Prior to the completion of the new unit, patients under the age of 18 would be housed inside the hospital in the event of a mental health crisis.
Respond to the request
Jadapalle said mental health care can be expensive, but the Cape Fear Valley Medical Center will serve families without insurance through Alliance Health.
Alliance Health is an organization that helps residents of Cumberland, Durham, Johnston, Mecklenburg, Orange, and Wake counties who are insured by Medicaid or uninsured with treatment or support for mental illness, addiction, and mental disabilities.
In order to meet the demand for child psychiatrists, Jadapalle said the medical center has sponsored a new fellowship. The new fellowship is dedicated to training more child psychiatrists, she said. Currently, there are five child psychiatrists at the medical center, she said.
“We work with families, we learn to work with school systems, we learn to work with…DSS, so there’s a lot of specialized training that…you don’t get as an adult psychiatrist,” he said. she declared.
To become a licensed child psychiatrist requires an additional two to three years of practice, she said.
In addition, the medical center has opened a Child and Adolescent Residence Clinic, which is an outpatient program, for children awaiting regular outpatient treatment, Bigger said.
Nearly 350 children and adolescents have been treated for mental health issues this year, she said.
Jadapalle said it was important for parents to get their children treated for mental health issues.
“We let them down by not getting them the help they need,” she said.
Health and Education Editor Ariana-Jasmine Castrellon can be reached at [email protected] or 910-486-3561.