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Davis Journal

Nation experiencing severe shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists

Feb 17, 2023 10:18AM ● By Becky Ginos

Kara Applegate, MD just opened her practice in Farmington Station. Applegate specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry. Courtesy photo

FARMINGTON—Only half of children and adolescents with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The national average for child and adolescent psychiatrists is 14 per 100,000 children. 

“There are very few outpatient facilities,” said Kara Applegate, MD child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist who just opened a practice in Station Park. “There are a few inpatient units and very few day programs so parents have to drive into Salt Lake.”

Even in a really big county like Davis County with a lot of kids there is a lack of resources, she said. “I think it’s almost the same as a rural county and there’s nothing you can do about it. There are no options for parents. I wanted to provide a greater reach in Davis County so I started my own practice.”

The U of U, IHC and Huntsman are all great institutions but the treatment is very slow because it can take several weeks to get in, said Applegate. “It’s not a competition in mental health, we just want to get those resources out there. We can pool those together to give the opportunity within the community to help them.”

Applegate said a limited number of residency spots in psychiatry has contributed to the lack of child psychiatrists. “Until the federal government lifts the amount of spots for trainees there is going to be a shortage. There are four child, adolescent psychiatrist graduates a year at the U of U and they can choose to stay or go other places.”

Mental health is a difficult career, she said. “There’s a lot of burnout. That plays a part in it too.”

Applegate treats all ages. “I do medication management, brief psychotherapy and treat any and all mental health disorders. You need an extensive understanding of child and adolescent development and take the time to look at a child’s development even in utero.”

ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) gives a good understanding of complicated mental health conditions, she said. “I have to understand the youth in the county and their experiences because we all have our own cultural changes. Kids here grow up in a different type of culture than in another state. I live here and I’ve grown up here so I know the culture.” 

Parents know if something’s off with their child, said Applegate. “Go in for their well checks and talk to the pediatrician about your concerns behaviorally or emotionally. Once the parent sees the child needs help they can get them into therapy. That’s the cornerstone of mental health.”

Psychiatrists work alongside the therapist, she said. “Sometimes it might be a combination of therapy and potential meds they may need. Gaining the insight and skills is the foundation of mental health issues.”

If a therapist sees that a child is not getting better or they’re not sure about a diagnosis they might refer them to a psychiatrist, said Applegate. “We might also get referrals from pediatricians, or hospitals.”

COVID was a huge change for kids, she said. “Making a change doesn’t feel good. Their school environment changed drastically and that's the child's whole world. It caused stress on the family and know one knew what to expect. We’re finding a new normal but we’ve experienced big changes in life so we saw a spike in mental health.”

Social media can be hard, said Applegate. “Setting boundaries on that is never bad. Talk about how they’re engaging at school. Having those hard conversations is important in healing. It’s a good first step between parents and children.”

Psychiatry is her passion, Applegate said. “I want them to know they’re not alone, we all want to help you. We don’t want people to suffer in silence. We’re here and ready to help. We’re excited to see you.”

Mental illness doesn’t have to be a permanent fixture, she said. “We’ll guide you in whatever stage you’re in. It doesn’t have to be forever. The goal is to help you and let you move on so you can live life to the fullest.”

Clear Sky Adult & Child Psychiatry is located at 240 N. Promontory, Suite 200, Farmington. For more information or to make an appointment visit