The Surge in Mental Health: How Dr. Katelyn Cusmano is Working to Address Pediatric Behavioral Health

January 30, 2023

COVID-19 was traumatic for everyone, but especially for kids. Isolation curbed their all-important social interaction and growth, long closures and sporadic opening of schools interrupted their education, and the constant stress of living through a pandemic weighed heavily on students.

Dr. Katelyn Cusmano was in her residency at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital in 2021; she and the rest of the hospital staff saw this trauma playing out in real-time. “I really saw numerous kids just waiting there for some kind of psychiatric help,” she said. “These poor kids have had their whole world turned upside down. We all had at the back of our minds that mental health was something that needed to be addressed, but I don’t think any of us anticipated the numbers that we saw. It was so, so overwhelming.”

Mental health has always been important for adults and children, but it has gone unaddressed for many years. Even before the pandemic, about 1 in 5 children had a mental health need, but only about 20 percent of those kids got help from a mental health provider.

Many students, parents, and healthcare providers believe the effects of the pandemic have only made matters worse. In fact, 71 percent of parents responding to a national survey said the pandemic had taken its toll on their children’s mental health, and a whopping 69 percent said it was the “worst thing to happen to their child.” In another survey, nearly one-third of students said they felt much more depressed and unhappy than usual.

What Yale Has Done To Make an Impact

To improve mental health in their young patients, Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital began offering training on behavioral health management to community pediatricians in 2021. Cusmano and more than 20 physicians jumped at the chance to help those in need in the program’s first year. The skills CT pediatric doctors gained helped support families who were already in crisis and prevented crises from happening.

With widespread shortages of mental health professionals who deal with children, the help couldn’t come too soon. In many cases, the waitlist for mental health services grew from weeks to months, leaving families to fend for themselves until an appointment became available.

What’s more, healthcare shortages and long waitlists are likely to worsen. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services predicts the nation will be short some 10,000 mental health professionals.

Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital medical care professionals are stepping up to fill in the gap. Many child health associates, from pediatric nurse practitioners to pediatricians, are undergoing training that helps them deliver mental health services.

Cusmano, a pediatrician who sees patients in both her New Haven and Cheshire, CT, pediatric practice, is just one of those who are now trained to provide exceptional behavioral health management to her patients. She wants her young patients and their families to know that she and other healthcare professionals are available to talk.

Yale Offers the Support You Need

The need for mental health services will likely grow among pediatric patients as young people continue to struggle with the effects of the pandemic and other social issues evolve. As the need grows, Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital and its staff will redouble their efforts to reach out to these young patients and their families and provide meaningful support to those in need.

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