ECU & United Health Foundation partnering on $3.2 million mental health expansion program

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) – Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s call for a warning label on social media is based on what many call a mental health crisis, not only across the United States but also in North Carolina.

According to the United Health Foundation, here in North Carolina, more than 70% of children with a mental health disorder do not receive treatment. Murthy’s initiative isn’t the only one in the works… The United Health Foundation has put together another initiative with East Carolina University’s Telepsychiatry Program to combat the issue.

Though many factors play into one’s mental health, Pew Research reports that 69% of adults and 81% of teens in the U.S. use social media. Thus, putting a large amount of the population at an increased risk of feeling anxious, depressed, or ill over their social media use.

That’s why the United Health Foundation and ECU are partnering with a new three-year, $3.2 million grant to address the youth mental health challenges in North Carolina.

“There’s a greater need on mental health, particularly given the rising prevalence that we’ve seen here in North Carolina. I think the data is heartbreaking. 9% of our children, ages 3-17 years old have experienced anxiety or depression,” says United Healthcare Community and State CEO Anita Bachmann.

It’s an issue that faces many challenges like a continued stigma attached to having open dialogue, having an open discussion about mental health, and care access due to a shortage in the amount of healthcare, according to Bachmann.

Dr. Sy Saeed North Carolina State Telepsychiatry Program Executive Director says they see over 10,000 children.

“Over 1800 showed a large to moderate level of anxiety, says Saeed. “We are providing both therapy and child psychiatry services.”

This program will help address mental health issues in teens sooner rather than later.

“Most mental disorders start early. As many as 75% of people who have mental disorders would have had their first episode of that illness by age 25. Anxiety, depression, and when people are having difficulty of stress and relationships,” says Dr. Saeed.

Officials say it will create a holistic and effective approach when treating children.

“Mental health for children includes mental, emotional, and behavioral well-being, and that provides the launching pad for how they think, feel, act, and handle stress,” says Dr. Saeed.

Dr. Saeed says the program currently treats 200 children with six clinics in North Carolina but the goal is to expand.

Dr. Saeed and Bachmann say that it’s vital for those dealing with mental health challenges to reach out to their healthcare provider or call the 9-8-8 mental health crisis hotline.