Raise awareness and make behavioral health stigma free

ST. LOUIS - Organizers are finalizing plans for what they're calling "the movement.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) welcomes the public to join the walk to change public perception about mental illness. It's this weekend. NAMI is the same group that’s working on a collaborative effort to help kids with behavioral health issues.

When it comes to a child’s mental health, Missouri has major gaps in service, according to Child Psychiatrist Dr. Ujjwal Ramtekkar, M.D. He sits on the NAMI Board of Directors and he’s on staff at Compass Health, Crider Center.

“We need about 47 child psychiatrists for one hundred thousand population. We have only nine. About 100 counties out of 114 do not have any physical presence of a child psychiatrist,” Dr. Ramtekkar says.

This shortage motivated behavioral health experts to create a three-year pilot. It’s called the Missouri Child Psychiatry Access Project.

“We want to provide some form of training and education to our primary care providers so that they can assess the emerging psychiatric needs for these children,” Ramtekkar says.

That means the pediatrician, the nurse practitioner, or family medicine doctor who spots red flags can immediately refer the family to the appropriate resources. A phone call will put them in touch with a child psychiatrist who will help make some preliminary decisions on early intervention.

Dr. Ramtekkar says the goal is to address mild to moderate issues in children before they become major adult mental health issues. He also hopes it lessens the strain on the limited number of child psychologists because the issues would be addressed before they become severe.

The access pilot is a partnership between the Behavioral Health Network of Greater St. Louis, the Missouri Foundation for Health and NAMI.

“Right now we are in the planning stage where we are recruiting the primary care providers, the large practices, so they can participate and utilize the services,” Ramtekkar says.

Every year NAMI sponsors a walk to raise awareness and make behavioral health stigma-free. If we provide this program statewide in a very structured manner, like we are trying to do provide here in Missouri, the cost per child is only two dollars,” says Dr. Ramtekkar.

NAMI’S 2018 Stigma Free Walk is Saturday, May 5 at the Chesterfield Amphitheater.