We Need a Mental Health Industry Disruptor

people dealing with a youth mental health crisis

Over the last decade, the increase in mental health problems among the nation’s youth has been disturbing. Recent surveys conducted by the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey found a substantial increase in mental health ER visits. Between 2011 and 2020, the number of kids presenting with such problems went from 4.8 million to 7.5 million. That means roughly 13% of all ER visits among children and adolescents involve some youth mental health crisis. And given the fact that emergency rooms are poorly equipped to handle such problems, it’s clear new directions are needed. Specifically, our nation needs disruptive mental health solutions, and businesses can play a major role in this regard.

A dude exemplifying the youth mental health crisis
What to do about the youth mental health crisis?

(Mental health apps can be a game-changer. Read more about how their innovations can make an impact in this Bold story.)

When it comes the youth mental health crisis, there are a number of conditions that prompt ER visits. According to the survey, mood disorders like depression and anxiety account for many of the presentations as does substance abuse. Other less common ones involve eating disorders and disruptive behaviors like ADHD. But the most worrisome increase that occurred in the last decade relates to suicidal complaints. The survey showed suicidal youth presentations went from less than 1% to more than 4% of all ER visits. Such increases make these problems even more urgent and in need of disruptive mental health solutions. In this regard, it’s essential we explore not only the underlying causes but likewise areas where major improvements are needed.

Gaps and Barriers to Youth Mental Health Care

There’s a number of reasons why a youth mental health crisis looms over the country today. One of the most notable reasons so many kids present to the ER for these problems related to poor general access. Many health insurances lack comprehensive mental health coverage, which means acute problems end up in acute care. Likewise, for children on Medicaid, what coverage does exist may take months to access. Available mental health professionals are limited, which places the responsible of care on primary care providers. And when mental health issues become overly complex, the only resource is emergency care. Thus, one aspect that disruptive mental health solutions must address is coverage and access.

Other major areas that need to be explored by disruptive mental health solutions involve prevention efforts. It is well known that social determinants of health play a major role in the youth mental health crisis. Poverty, discriminations, and traumatic events are often precursors to higher risk kids with mental health problems. Likewise, many of these same kids lack strong support systems and therefore have limited resilience. And with a lack of understanding and awareness of their issues, parents and children alike often do not know where to turn. Ultimately, this brings them into the ER, which is not only poorly equipped but also expensive. As such, the current systems only add more to healthcare costs without resolving the issues long-term.

A dude having a clear mental health crisis
Telehealth disrupted the healthcare industry during the pandemic. Now we need something for mental health post-pandemic.

Business’s Immediate Role in the Crisis

While policymakers and health insurers have a responsibility in resolving the youth mental health crisis, businesses can help too. Certainly, companies do not routinely employ children and adolescents. However, they do employ parents, and they do represent a presence in communities. As such, they should be actively involved in supporting disruptive mental health solutions for kids. These individuals are the future, and effectively managing mental health in this population is vital. While suicide is the most worrisome threat, those with mental health problems tend to perform poorly socially and academically. Thus, businesses have an invested interest not only from an ethical perspective but from a future workforce talent viewpoint as well.

Understanding this, employers should at a minimum provide employee resources to help deal with these issues. Wellness programs, family resources, and employee assistance programs offer a foundation of support. These measures, combined with a health insurance plan that acknowledges the current youth mental health crisis, represent a good start. In addition, businesses can offer remote and hybrid work schedules to employees. The flexibility provided also helps parents better support their children. Finally, businesses can also partner and support community organizations, schools, and research related to youth mental health. While these may not be disruptive mental health solutions, they are valid ways to help.

(The remote office is here to stay–read more in this Bold story.)

Disruptive Mental Health Solutions

A girl who needs disruptive mental health solutions
We need disruptive mental health solutions to tackle the growing problem–got any ideas?

As is the case with many social problems, it takes a village. Businesses can help in many ways and can encourage disruptive mental health solutions. So can schools, communities, policymakers, and healthcare systems. In this regard, there are a few directions that need immediate consideration. First, urgent care mental health centers need to be increased and funded. This would alleviate the burden on emergency rooms and reduce costs. It would also allow better resource coordination with mental health professionals and organizations. Currently, these types of networks are severely lacking, which is why the youth mental health crisis is worsening. By supporting such systems and facilities, children and adolescents could be much better served.

At the same time, new measures to raise awareness, educate and prevent mental health problems should be pursued. Given the advances in technologies, mental health applications and platforms should be further developed for these purposes. Developing and implementing these in educational programs in school could greatly improve resilience and awareness. As a result, earlier interventions could be employed with better results. Likewise, technological advances in imaging, genetics, and digital screening tools could also enhance early detection. These are the type of disruptive mental health solutions that could realize tremendous gains quickly. Support for these types of advances must also occur as part of a broader strategy to address the youth mental health crisis.

Urgency in Action Needed

As is clear from the statistics cited, urgency in action is needed. For years, health systems and supports have not kept pace with the youth mental health crisis. Now, emergency rooms are serving as clinics that usually put out fires and provide temporary bandages. More lasting and effective solutions are needed, and it will require an effort on the part of many stakeholders. Businesses are included within this group of stakeholders. In fact, they likely offer the best hope for a true disruptive mental health solution in the short term.


(AI-created music is going to be the next big innovation in computer-generated content–read why in this Bold story.)

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