Survey assesses Bexar adolescents’ mental health, gaps in care

SAN ANTONIO (March 3, 2011) — Almost a decade ago, a national survey found that 79 percent of children 6-17 years of age with mental health needs had not gotten treatment in the previous year. For Hispanic children, the numbers were even worse.

To fight this troubling statistic, the Baptist Health Foundation of San Antonio recently awarded $165,000 to the UT Health Science Center San Antonio.

Psychiatry researchers in the university’s School of Medicine are using the grant to assess the mental health needs of Bexar County adolescents, in an effort to identify the reasons young people are not getting into treatment.

“I was struck by how many teens had not received clinical care for their psychiatric condition,” said principal investigator Douglas E. Williamson, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry, epidemiology and biostatistics in the School of Medicine.

Dr. Williamson will lead the new study, which builds upon one he led called the Teen Alcohol Outcomes Study (TAOS). In that, researchers enrolled 330 adolescents to investigate how genes, the environment and brain systems converge across development to increase an adolescent’s risk to develop depression and/or alcohol use disorders.

The new project is a one-year follow-up assessment of 1,100 young subjects who were interviewed for the TAOS. The new study will document how many youth have a psychiatric disorder, how many are being treated and reasons for not being in care. “What are their attitudes toward treatment?” Dr. Williamson asked. “What are the impediments — cultural attitudes, family attitudes or both? Is the impediment a lack of insurance for mental health services? Is it lack of transportation or lack of knowledge of available services?”

The Department of Psychiatry will create a referral source for all psychiatrists in Bexar County, “a conduit to hook up folks for treatments,” Dr. Williamson said. The team will also develop ways to broadcast educational messages to schools and families stressing that mental health in adolescents is a real problem and that there are resources for help.

Rene Olvera, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of psychiatry in the Division of Childhood and Adolescence, and Mauricio Tohen, M.D., Dr.P.H., M.B.A., professor of psychiatry and director of the Division of Mood Disorders, are co-principal investigators on the project.

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