A 2012 report from physicians and researchers in the University of California system revealed that for the first time since the federal government began collecting data on the subject, more children had activities limited by chronic developmental, emotional and behavioral conditions than by physical ones.
That may be surprising for some, but it just reinforces what many in pediatrics already know. A 2010 study found that 1 in 5 children have or have had a seriously impairing mental disorder. A 2016 study found that children who are hospitalized for a physical condition ultimately stay in the hospital longer if they also have a mental health condition.
We must change the way we think about child health care, then. It is not just treating a broken bone or managing asthma. It is also working with children who have behavioral health issues and their families.
One obstacle to this shift in perspective involves understanding “behavioral health,” a sometimes vague term. We use it to mean the treatment and study of a variety of conditions:
- Mental illness. This is a brain disorder often affecting how a person thinks, feels and relates to others. Those disorders can include depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, anorexia, bulimia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.
- Developmental disorders. These include autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome and intellectual disabilities.
- Behaviors affecting physical, emotional or mental wellbeing. These include substance abuse, reactions to stress or trauma, feeding problems, suicide attempts, and feelings associated with treatment of a medical illness (for example, a child with diabetes who develops needle phobia after repeated insulin shots).
Explained in those ways, it becomes clear that almost everyone knows a family dealing with behavioral health issues.
We know that one of the focuses of child health care must be child behavioral health care. Today, we break ground on the Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion, which will become the country’s largest behavioral health treatment and research center specifically for children and adolescents on a pediatric medical campus.
Solely devoted to children and adolescents with behavioral health challenges and illnesses, the Pavilion will be nine stories at completion. The space will house behavioral health researchers and foster collaboration between community partner agencies. It will also provide the opportunity for expanded education and training for those in the mental and behavioral health field. The approximately 386,000 sq. ft. building is slated to open in 2020.
The building will ramp up to support 48 inpatient beds, with capacity for more in the future, for three units; Adolescent Inpatient, Child Inpatient and Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities. It will also have a Youth Crisis Stabilization Unit, consisting of 16 additional beds, and a Psychiatric Crisis Center, consisting of 10 additional beds.
Designed to enhance the family-centered care approach to treatment, the Pavilion will have a Family Resource Center, a rooftop outdoor play area, and worship and meditation spaces. Patient safety is a priority and the Pavilion has been designed for the unique needs of behavioral health patients.
We are not just breaking ground on a building, but on the design of a new system of care and research that will allow us to care for the physical and behavioral needs of children. The national dialogue around children’s behavioral health care has to evolve. If we truly want children to reach their full potentials, we have to recognize what is limiting them, and do something about it.