Help Wanted: Child Psychiatrists - 8 News NOW

Paula Francis, Anchor

Help Wanted: Child Psychiatrists

Posted: Updated:
Dr. Norton Roitman, Las Vegas Child Psychiatrist Dr. Norton Roitman, Las Vegas Child Psychiatrist
Teresa Lowry, prosecutor for Clark County District Attorney's Juvenile Division Teresa Lowry, prosecutor for Clark County District Attorney's Juvenile Division
Tom Waite, president of Las Vegas Girls and Boys Town Tom Waite, president of Las Vegas Girls and Boys Town

Experts say a large proportion of kids who have gotten in trouble with the law have some type of mental illness that could be diagnosed and treated.

NIMH: Child Psychiatry   |   WebMD: Child Psychiatry 

The Coalition for Juvenile Justice believes the figure is between 50 and 75-percent. Adding to the problem is not enough child psychiatrists to take care of everyone who needs help. The Eye on Health team spoke with some who are calling for change.

Las Vegas resident Monica Wood couldn't find a qualified professional to help her troubled son: Wood says, "He did not get adequate treatment in time. And subsequently ended up incarcerated again."

Wood's son is now 21 and behind bars. She's one of many frustrated parents who find themselves in desperate need of qualified psychiatric help for their children. Her son was eventually diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Wood says, "Anything that he might want or want to do even if it's something that's not good, a good choice, he can't help it. He'll do things sometimes ritualistically. And recognize it but be unable to stop."

Las Vegas Child Psychiatrist Norton Roitman said, "That's the job. To try to go through the list of problems looking for symptoms, to see if the symptoms try to come together in some sort of pattern that represents a psychiatric disorder."

Dr. Roitman adds that the shortage of child psychiatrists is leaving the task of diagnosis and treatment to non-specialists. He said, "Pediatricians and adult psychiatrists, primary care doctors and family practitioners are all taking up the slack. Even non medical professionals are diagnosing and recommending even medication treatments in this community."

Psychiatry is not exactly a hot specialty. Medical students are opting instead for primary-care careers or specialties like cardiology. Making matters worse -- mental health services still suffer from a double standard when it comes to reimbursement.

Dr. Roitman said, "The way that psychiatry in general is treated by the insurance companies - is with the back of a hand."

The demand for adolescent psychiatrists continues to climb and that may force a change. Plus, open-minded parents are feeling less stigmatized.

Roitman continued, "If it's biological in nature, genetic in nature, nobody gets the blame. There's no shame. And so you can see there's interest in identifying a certain class of problems attention deficit disorder, autism, or bipolar disorder. These conditions are gaining in popularity in a sense."

A child psychiatrist can also determine if a child's behavior problems are a stage of development or a reaction to stress, in which case "talking it out" may be the best solution. But when there is a deeper problem, an untreated child may embark on a lifelong struggle.

Teresa Lowry said, "Because if we're not adequately able to treat them, give them the services they need and give them the coping skills they need to deal with their mental illness, that it's almost guaranteed that they will transition into the adult criminal justice system sometime in the future."

Lowry is a prosecutor for the Juvenile Division of the Clark County District Attorney's office. She says the shortage of child psychiatrists in Southern Nevada has become painfully obvious.

"That's evidenced by the fact that both the juvenile justice system and the child welfare system often times have to send children out of state, out of Clark County and out of Nevada to receive mental health care. So, in a community our size, with our resources, to have to send children to other states such as Texas, or Utah, or Tennessee, to receive mental health services does a disservice to those children," Lowry said.

Tom Waite is president of Girls and Boys Town in Las Vegas -- a residential program for children with behavioral problems. For some of those youth, a pre-existing mental illness may be complicated by their exposure to abuse, abandonment or neglect.

Waite says, "If you start off on the wrong foundation with a poor diagnosis or weak diagnosis, you're either going to be going in the wrong direction or not going very far in the right direction without getting the good intervention that you need."

Early intervention can salvage lives.

Waite adds, "We've seen kids that were destined for gangs, homelessness or welfare system actually be married and raising kids and being productive, contributing members of society. That's what we would view as a success."

Monica Wood adds, "Mental illness should be treated just like tuberculosis or something. He needs proper care for that and understanding. And I will never give up on him. I will always fight for my son and be his biggest advocate."

Research shows that when children with co-existing depression and conduct disorders grow up they tend to use more health care services and have higher health care costs than other adults.

Email Anchor Paula Francis at pfrancis@klastv.com

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