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Youth Mental Health Crises Likely To 'Linger After The Pandemic'

A new psychiatric hospital called MiraVista, operated by Health Partners New England, is scheduled to open April 21, 2021, at the site of the former Providence Behavioral Health Hospital in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
Ben James
/
NEPM
A new psychiatric hospital called MiraVista, operated by Health Partners New England, is scheduled to open April 21, 2021, at the site of the former Providence Behavioral Health Hospital in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

This week on The Short List: Many children in western Massachusetts in a mental health crisis are struggling to get services they need.

A three-part series on NEPM reports that waits for an inpatient placement can take more than a month, and there's a shortage of therapists to work with young people.

Ellie Du Toit of Behavioral Health Network said helping a child through a mental health crisis should go further than just hospitalization.

"They can be given medications. They can be given coping skills," she said. "But ultimately, there needs to be that long-term therapy and treatment."

There are currently no inpatient psychiatric hospital beds for children in western Massachusetts. About two dozen are expected to be made available in Springfield and Holyoke in the coming weeks.

Panelist Ron Chimelis said there does need to be an improved, cohesive strategy in the region among stakeholders and government officials on such a complex issue.

"We're dealing with the psychiatric needs of kids — still something that a lot of people really don't want to admit is as big an issue as it is," he said. "And it's going to linger after the pandemic."

Chimelis said schools, hospitals, families and the government are all working on "separate islands" to make improvements.

"There has to be some coordination if we're going to have a better service than we have now, and it's very obvious that we need a better, more coordinated system than we currently have," he said.

Some parents have expressed hope the pandemic could expose shortcomings and lead to progress. 

Panelist Elizabeth Román said she thinks mental health has indeed become a priority in this past year.

"It's not that those issues weren't there before," she said. "It's just that we're noticing them more now."

Román said the pandemic has also proven how important schools and socialization are for children. 

"I think that a lot of people don't understand, or don't think about, how important it is for kids to be able to interact with other kids, to see their friends, to see other adults that they trust," she said. "They may not have the best family life. So when they go to school and they have a teacher, or they have an athletic coach that they trust, and that they feel comfortable with, that gives them a sense of security, and a sense of appreciation and love that maybe you didn't even think they needed."

Recent numbers from state education officials show more young people graduating from the Springfield Public Schools, and fewer students dropping out. Over an eight-year period ending last year, the graduation rate was up more than 20 points to 77%, while the dropout rate fell from 10% to 3%.

Schools superintendent Dan Warwick said the most dramatic gains were at the High School of Science and Technology, which is designated as under-performing by the state.

"Their dropout rate went from 11.7% to 2%," Warwick said. "Their graduation rate, the four-year rate, went from 39.9 to 85.6%."

Panelist Chimelis wrote a column this week about fatigue from all of the pandemic-related statistics we've been hearing.

And finally this week, lawmakers on Beacon Hill have started the redistricting process — potentially redrawing state legislative and congressional districts. They are doing so without the latest data from the U.S. Census, which might not be available until the end of September.

Guests:

Listen to The Short List podcast.

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Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
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