Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody's 'full-court press' to improve youth mental health in North Carolina

North Carolina is tackling the mental health crisis from many angles, having proposed a $1 billion behavioral health budget, developed care platforms, and now, opening a new youth psychiatric hospital in Butner. 

Samantha Meltzer-Brody, MD, chair of the department of psychiatry at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, recently joined Becker's to detail how the state is using a multipronged approach to tackle the growing mental health crisis nationwide. 

Recent CDC research found that 45 percent of high school students said they were consistently sad and hopeless, leading to a loss of desire to participate in normal activities. An agency survey also found that 1 in 5 considered suicide, and 9 percent of teens had considered suicide within the past year.

"It demands all hands on deck. And we all need to be responding fully to this, the next generation is our future and seeing that kind of data is really terrifying," Dr. Meltzer-Brody told Becker's. 

"The lack and the reduction of appropriate school-based services, other services from focusing on mental health. We have really left our kids in a position where they are not able to function well and many of them are suffering tremendously."

The pandemic has worsened mental health among individuals of all ages — it is estimated that  25.2 percent of Americans, or 84 million individuals, will require behavioral health services in 2026.

"It's going to take a multifaceted, full-court press to turn this around. And it's not going to be any one thing. It's going to be many, many things, from school-based services, to primary care integration, to educating kids in an entirely different way about mental health and a range of continuum of care services. It's an opportunity to really invest and that's where I'm focused."

Dr. Meltzer-Brody stepped into the role of department chair in 2019, just before the onset of the pandemic. 

"Being the department chair of psychiatry at UNC at this particular time, I feel like it's my job to really make this a key priority and then work with partners to get investments that can hopefully begin to move the bar in the right direction. It won't be a quick fix. 

University of North Carolina Health partnered with the state health department to open a youth psychiatric hospital in Butner, N.C.

The 54-bed facility will provide inpatient care, psychiatric emergency services and specialized outpatient treatment. 

"The governor put out a plan for a $1 billion investment and we'll be opening the new hospital this summer. This is really a partnership with the state and we need to have many more examples of this. This is just in many ways, the tip of the iceberg."

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