A fruitless search for help for children with depression

Harvard researchers have confirmed what just about any parent of a child with mental health issues can tell you: Getting help is nearly impossible.

The researchers called 913 doctors in Minneapolis, Boston, Chapel Hill, N.C., Houston, and Seattle and posed as parents of a 12-year-old showing signs of depression.

While they were able to get an appointment with a pediatrician less than half the time — after two tries — they could get to see a psychiatrist only 17 percent of the time, the Boston Globe reports.

Those who are fighting mightily to stem the second leading cause of death in Minnesota — suicide — often assure us that help is available. But the reality is for most people, it’s not.

For one thing, the researchers said, there’s a critical shortage of child psychologists, so many are not taking new patients or there’s a long waiting list to get an appointment.

The good news — if it can be considered good news — is people in the Twin Cities were able to get an appointment with a pediatrician or child psychologist in about two weeks, on average. Only Chapel Hill (12 days) showed better results.

But for those on Medicaid, the odds are staggering. People on Medicaid had only a 22 percent chance of getting an appointment.

“In some cases, kids will hold on and be OK until they get to that first appointment,’’ said Dr. J. Wesley Boyd, a co-author of the study. “In other cases, a crisis will arise in the meantime and they will end up in the emergency room.’’

The researchers chose pediatricians because they are increasingly becoming the frontline resource for mental health issues.

They also found that many of the lists of psychiatrists and doctors that insurance companies provide are “ghosts lists.” In 24 percent of the calls made to child psychiatrists, the doctor no longer worked there, the receptionist had never heard of the doctor, or it was otherwise the wrong number, the newspaper reports.

Asked by the Globe what parents trying to find a child psychiatrist should do, Boyd said “you just have to be dramatically persistent.’’