Access to AYA preventive services, including mental health screenings and treatments, can be met with a cadre of barriers. Whether these barriers are geographic or location-based, financial (e.g. lack of insurance coverage, out-of-pocket costs), provider-centered (e.g. skillset, specialty) or social/environmental (e.g. stigma, cultural beliefs, non-welcoming spaces), a young person’s mental health status can be exacerbated and lead to worsening health outcomes if not assessed and addressed properly. Further complicating matters are the typical months-long waits for follow-up appointments and treatment referrals for behavioral health concerns.
These concerns are critical issues for AYAs, since half of lifetime diagnosable mental disorders begin by age 14, and three quarters begin by age 24. There is not enough capacity in the U.S. for mental health specialists to address the vast need for services, particularly in their traditional office settings.
Faced with these systemic challenges, which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, public health and healthcare systems have demonstrated a key role in supporting AYAs by assessing their mental health status and providing treatment when needed. Creativity and innovation in how and where youth are screened or connected to referrals has alleviated some of these existing barriers to high quality treatment and support.