Why Iowa’s shortage of child psychiatrists is taking a toll on QC community

BETTENDORF, Iowa - There are children in Iowa who struggle with mental health issues that are going untreated. Some of those children are dying by suicide.

That's because, according to a new report by the Des Moines Register, Iowa does not have enough child psychiatrists to provide the help that kids need.

Local school counselors say children are starting to show signs of severe depression and anxiety as early as the third grade. With a lack of treatment in the Quad Cities, mental illnesses, which kill more than 100 Americans every day, are taking a toll on the Quad Cities community.

Christine Schmidt, of Bettendorf, lost her daughter, Morgan, at just 12 years old.

"We felt completely blindsided," said Christine, "I wasn't aware of any resources in the Quad Cities."

Morgan was one of the 20% of children in the United States that experts (from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) estimate will develop a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety.

In Iowa that 20% translates to about 150,000 children.

Related: "Find help yourself" - Family fights Iowa mental health system for 10 years

While that number might be shocking, there appears to be an even bigger issue.

"It's like at least as month out, sometimes three months out before they can actually get an appointment. So, it is really difficult to get the kids to see somebody." said Michelle Bruty, a middle school counselor at Bettendorf Middle School.

Iowa has a critical shortage of Mental Health Treatment Options.

According to a 2017 report, there are only 55 child psychiatrists to oversee the care of the state's 750,000 children.

85 of Iowa's 99 counties, including Muscatine and Clinton counties don't even have one child psychiatrist.

Most of the help is located far from the Quad Cities, in Iowa City, Des Moines, and Cedar Rapids.

Even in Scott County, there are only four child psychiatrists. One of those psychiatrists works at Vera French Community Mental Health Center in Davenport.

The CEO of Vera French tells WQAD News 8 that while hospitals and out-patient treatment centers are great for short-term, fast and safe treatment of mental health illnesses, the Quad Cities needs more long-term, "in between" treatment options for mentally ill people.

"Some people have to travel hours to get care for their child, or to even just have that initial appointment." said Morgan's mom, Christine Schmidt.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has acknowledged the flaws in the state's mental health system. She says a lack of funding makes it hard to lay a foundation for a new system.

Since 2011, lawmakers have created four separate committees to tackle the issue of mental health in the state. Still, children lack the resources that they need.

Earlier this year, the governor appointed a committee hoping to bring forth promising changes for children.

"I feel we've been talking about it for a long time, and just have not gotten anything done. So they're tasked with getting back to me by December and hopefully that will be part of my program for the next legislative session" said Reynolds.

Meanwhile, the teen suicide prevention bill passed earlier this year has helped educators get the training that they need to help identify warning signs in children.

Just weeks ago, the federal government also announced plans to offer more funding to the state of Iowa to help educators obtain this training.

The Bettendorf School District is adding counseling staff, working with  a growing number of kids who they say need their help.

"We have more and more resources but it feels like the number just keeps getting bigger and bigger," said Bruty. "What used to be more like 5% (of children needing help) is now more up to closer to 20% of our kids that are at risk."

An epidemic overwhelming staff and parents every day.

"I would say every one of us is overwhelmed every single day. When we leave here we thing, 'I wish I could've gotten to that student.'"" said Bruty.

"I have parents come to me almost daily and they say I know my daughter or son is suicidal," said Christine.

It is an issue that Christine knows, all too well, needs to be fixed fast.

"(Morgan) was discharged (from the hospital) on a Friday, she was given an appointment (at a treatment facility) on a Monday, but Morgan died on Sunday."

Now, the community is calling upon Iowa's leaders for change.

"I feel like were giving it our best trying to help these kids, but we are asking for help." said Bruty.