Mental Health Week: Physicians create new tools to help youth and families

May 6, 2019

It is challenging for many adults to speak out about mental health issues. That is even more true for youth who may not understand their own conditions or how to put their symptoms into words. This is a challenge not just for family members, but also for doctors who are trying to diagnose young patients who present with physical symptoms linked to anxiety or depression.

To address these challenges, BC emergency room pediatrician Dr Quynh Doan created  HEARTSMAP, a clinical assessment tool that helps ER physicians identify youth mental health issues and make recommendations for treatment. Although the tool has been successfully used over 1,600 times across BC, there are barriers – particularly since there is a high staff turnover in ERs. To address this issue, Dr Doan and her team at BC Children’s Hospital decided to adapt the tool so that patients (children ages 10 to 17) and families can use it to self-assess and identify mental health issues. The result is MyHEARTSMAP, a tool that can be offered to patients and families during ED visits, and can be used in doctors’ offices. The tool looks at concerns in 10 areas: home, education, alcohol/drugs, relationships/bullying, thoughts/anxiety, safety, sexual health, mood/behavior, abuse and professions and recommends available resources.

Dr Doan states, “the idea is to identify an issue early. When anxiety or depression is identified early – more resources are available and treatment is more effective. It is when an issue moves to a more acute stage that resources become less available and treatment less effective.”

Dr Doan expects the data collected from the use of the tools will eventually create more effective and efficient ways to address mental health issues and deliver appropriate and timely care. “I would like to facilitate the engagement of kids and young adults in being actively involved in the process of identifying their mental health issues. I therefore am looking forward to the future application of these tools,” said Dr Doan. 

HEARTSMAP was funded by the Specialist Services Committee, one of four Joint Collaborative Committees representing a partnership between the BC government and Doctors of BC. Its another example of how physicians are innovative leaders in the health care system and champions of patient care.

What other Joint Collaborative Committees are doing

Other JCCs are also funding important work to improve mental health care in BC, such as: 

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