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Clinics See Rise in Teen Patients

June 12, 1999

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Mental health clinics and therapists across the country say they’ve seen a surge of younger patients since the Columbine High School shootings as parents and educators seek help for kids.

Magellan Behavioral Health, with more than 60 million adults and children in its programs nationwide, said its calls in May jumped 25 percent over the same month last year.

``It appears that people all across the country are so shaken by this incident that they’re not taking any chances,″ said Erin Somers, a spokeswoman for Magellan, which is based in Columbia, Md.

The April 20 massacre in Littleton, Colo., in which two students killed 12 of their classmates and one teacher, followed similar attacks in Pearl, Miss.; West Paducah, Ky.; Jonesboro, Ark.; and Springfield, Ore.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has seen calls to its referral service more than double over the first five months of 1999 from the same period a year ago.

Henry Gault, a child psychiatrist in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook, Ill., said he has received 15 referrals from schools to evaluate students over the past seven weeks, compared to the one or two he normally receives in the waning weeks of the school year.

``I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I’ve never had this many,″ Gault said.

In Indianapolis, the summertime lull hasn’t arrived yet at Charter Indianapolis Health Care System, an 80-bed hospital where people fight addictions and other problems.

``We had to open up 12 more beds in the last six weeks for adolescents and children,″ said Roxane Harcourt, chief operating officer.

Harcourt said the hospital has seen a 30 percent increase in the number of patients under 17 over the past six weeks due to a surge in referrals from schools and physicians.

``Families are more comfortable going to their general doctors″ with concerns about their children’s mental health, Harcourt said. ``And the doctors themselves are more likely to say, ’Let’s have a professional eyeball this kid to see what’s really going on.‴

David Fassler, a child psychiatrist in Burlington, Vt., said his 4,000-patient practice has grown by 25 percent in the past six months, largely because of an influx of teenagers and children.

``We’ve had to ask some adult patients to come at 6 a.m.,″ Fassler said. ``But you have to remember that, even with this increase across the country, still only one child in four receives the help they need.″

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