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A new clinic aims to support Kansas City's increasingly depressed and anxious teens

A group of adults arranged in two rows, some wearing hospital ID badges, smile into the camera. They are standing in front of a glass-paneled building.
Children's Mercy Kansas City
During the 12-month clinic program, patients can access experts in psychology, social work and nursing, all of whom are collaborating to provide group and individual therapy, as well as medication management. Ram Chettiar, front left, will help lead the program.

Children's Mercy Hospital has launched a new clinic aimed at treating children ages 12 to 17 with anxiety and depression. The collaborative program is one of fourteen Children's Mercy projects targeting the pediatric mental health crisis.

About 15 million kids across the country are struggling to access mental health care and in Kansas City, estimates suggest as much as 50% of children in need of care go untreated.

Among those untreated, a growing portion are adolescents whose mental health crisis were amplified by the effects of the pandemic. Depression and anxiety are two of the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders in this group — and the focus of a new Children’s Mercy Hospital clinic.

Children’s Mercy child and adolescent psychologist Ram Chettiar will help lead the Depression and Anxiety in Youth (DAY) Clinic, which he says will provide a comprehensive, one-stop-shop for patients ages 12 to 17.

“The treatment is out there, we just need more access to it,” Chettiar said. “Oftentimes kids really feel hopeless, especially when depression and anxiety are involved. This gives families new hope. For a lot of kids, it can change their trajectory in life.”

The DAY clinic is the hospital’s first program dedicated to treating these conditions using cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and mindfulness approaches. Chettiar said this would help stabilize patients and strengthen coping skills.

During the 12-month program, patients will have access to experts in psychology, social work and nursing who will work together to provide group and individual therapy, as well as medication management. After the year is up, patients can transition to community resources for further support.

“We have regular visits where we collaborate and talk about the different aspects of the care that the patient is receiving to ensure that they're moving in the right direction and that we're setting them up for success as they transition outside of our program,” he said.

In addition to Chettiar, clinical psychologist Sarah Beals-Erickson will help lead the collaborative project.

Beals-Erickson said without proper treatment, depression and anxiety can lead to low self-esteem, isolation, and a sense of hopelessness.

“By providing youth with the right coping skills they can improve their overall mental health and prevent future episodes,” she said.

The DAY clinic is one of 14 mental health projects Children’s Mercy will launch over the next five years as part of their Illuminate initiative. The $150 million investment focuses on early intervention, specialty services, research and innovation, and inpatient hospital care.

Illuminate will help children with ADHD, autism, depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

“The message from primary care physicians in the community was loud and clear: Anxiety and depression treatment needs to be a priority,” said Sarah Soden, Children’s Mercy director of Developmental and Behavioral Health. “Our goal is to make sure more young people are getting access to early-intervention before it becomes a crisis.”

As KCUR's health reporter, I cover the Kansas City metro in a way that reflects our expanding understanding of what health means and the ways it touches different communities and different areas in distinct ways. I will provide a platform to amplify ideas and issues often underrepresented in the media and marginalized people and communities in an authentic and honest way that goes beyond the surface of the issues. I will endeavor to find and include in my work local experts and organizations that have their ears to the ground and a beat on the health needs of the community. Reach me at noahtaborda@kcur.org.
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