It’s no secret that the mental health of our youth has been deteriorating in recent years. While the COVID-19 pandemic affected everyone’s mental health in ways experts are just beginning to understand, children and adolescents already were experiencing declining mental health before the stressors of lockdowns and related concerns were added. Stephanie Camacho, LPC, director of outpatient services at The Medical Center of Aurora, explains, “Certainly COVID brought to light a lot of mental health needs. Kids were only seeing peers on a computer; they were wearing masks, and they couldn’t touch, play, or interact as they did. Kids are tactile and hands-on, and that change impacts their mental health. At the same time, social media already was a glaring detriment to mental health, and especially for kids who don’t yet have the brain capacity to process a lot of what they see.”
As the need for child and adolescent mental health services increased exponentially during the last two years, Camacho and her team were finding there wasn’t the needed capacity. “We saw a drastic increase in the need for services, not just adolescents, but also younger children. We were seeing parents bring children in crisis to emergency rooms, which is not the place to get effective mental health treatment. At the same time, these kids were not safe to go home—we needed higher levels of care, but we didn’t have the places to send these kids,” Camacho recalls. While services of this type were offered, providers had months-long waiting lists or were located more than an hour away, options that were not feasible for the vast majority of patients who needed timely, local, ongoing support.
In response, the HealthONE Behavioral Health and Wellness Center has taken on an aggressive expansion initiative to launch intermediate-care centers where children (ages 9-11) and adolescents (ages 12-17) can receive treatment through the center’s intensive outpatient program (IOP). While the HealthONE Behavioral Health and Wellness Center has been providing care in Aurora for nearly a decade, the program expanded to locations throughout the metro area; now the adolescent program is available at Rose Medical Center, The Medical Center of Aurora North Campus, in Saddle Rock and in Ken Caryl, and the children’s program is available at Saddle Rock only. We’ll also be expanding to Westminster in February, with a new outpatient clinic at the corner of 112th and Sheridan, through North Suburban Medical Center’s Northwest location.
“In our IOP program, we focus on skill building. We are a bridge from whatever crisis happened to initiate care to be completely set up with a long-term plan –a psychiatrist, additional support, whatever that may look like. Generally, they are with us 4-6 weeks, three days a week, from 3:30pm to 6:20pm. During that time, we provide three groups run by different facilitators in addition to snacks, meetings with social workers, and whatever else we need to accomplish to get them on a path to better health,” Camacho details.