UNC assistant professor uses grant to fund new program for children who need help with mental illness

CHAPEL HILL, NC (WNCN) – Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts estimate that a third of all children have suffered from depression or anxiety.

Although life appears to be returning to normal, many concerns remain about the lasting impacts on children’s mental health.

CBS17 spoke with a professor of psychiatry at UNC who is launching a new program that could make a huge difference.

They said it could be as easy as a student logging into a computer at a school.

“I am really concerned that we have a generation of children who have gone through a very traumatic experience going through the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr Nate Sowa, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UNC. “We don’t really know how it’s going to impact their long-term development, what it’s going to look like for our company in terms of growth and entry into the world.”

With a grant of $ 1.97 million, any child can talk to someone and get the resources and advice they need.

Sowa is leading a new program to roll back the problem the national pandemic has caused.

“We have more and more children who have suicidal thoughts, feelings, (thoughts of) hurting themselves and ending up in our emergency rooms,” Sowa said.

His team will work with certain school districts to offer telepsychiatry appointments to their students.

“We have about 200 child psychiatrists in the state (and) they’re in 31 of the 100 counties,” he said. “So there’s a big part of the state that doesn’t have access to that level of specialized care. “

Right now, his team is working to identify two different locations in North Carolina to try out the program.

Sowa said he aimed to start in areas where there are many barriers preventing parents and their children from getting the help they need.

“Maybe (families) don’t have… even if they have the Internet, maybe they don’t have access to a device where they can contact a supplier through a laptop or smartphone,” he said. Sowa said. “With COVID-19, it really brought to light one of the cracks in our society and the lack of access. Reliable access to health care is important.

The program will not only provide behavioral and mental treatment for children, but it will also connect their families with resources and local health agencies to make sure they are all taken care of, he said.

“We really have a responsibility to provide this type of care to our children because they have really gone through a large scale traumatic event and need some kind of help,” Sowa said. “So they can get past that, the last couple of years and you know, really develop a little bit, hopefully, normally going forward.”

Sowa said the plan is to spend the next three to six months gathering information and identifying areas that need help the most. Then the Sowa team will choose the test sites and schools and start their work.

The funding, via a partnership with the SECU foundation, is for a period of three years. The Sowa team hope to use this time to create a more durable, long-term solution.

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