Rees-Jones Foundation Propels Mental Health Care for Children
October 1, 2020

Rees-Jones Foundation Propels Mental Health Care for Children

A Publication of The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

This article, written by Sharon Reynolds, was originally published in the print community edition of the summer 2020 Center Times newspaper.

Since its inception in 2006, The Rees-Jones Foundation has been supporting organizations that improve the quality of life for children and families. With its most recent gift of $3.5 million, the Foundation has generously provided more than $10 million to UT Southwestern’s Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care (CDRC), led by Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, to help identify and treat depression early in children.

“Depression in adolescents is being identified and measurement-based treatment options are being implemented earlier through the innovative diagnostic tool, VitalSign6, developed by Dr. Trivedi and his team. This expanding network of primary care clinics using this tool and the associated therapeutic interventions are resulting in remarkable improved outcomes for these youth,” said Thornton Hardie, President of The Rees-Jones Foundation.

In 2017, the Foundation’s gift of $6.5 million helped the CDRC expand two powerful mental health networks:

  • The Risk and Resilience Network, which supports youth-serving organizations with programs that help address mood and anxiety disorders in adolescents and young adults through resilience-building and mental health education.
  • The Pediatric Mood Disorders Network (PMDN), which offers pediatricians and primary care physicians the ability to implement mental health evaluations in all patient visits using the web-based software VitalSign6 (VS6) to help detect depression and integrate depression treatment into patient care.

With these networks established, the Foundation’s latest pledge of $3.5 million will be used to screen more children for depression and increase the average rate of remission with improved treatment models. In addition, the gift will enable the CDRC team to collect and analyze data to help develop better measurement-based treatment models.

“Through their philanthropy, The Rees-Jones Foundation inspires innovation and hope,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern. “Their extraordinary gifts to support the CDRC will continue to make a positive difference in the lives of children and ensure a better world for generations to come. We are profoundly grateful for this partnership.”

The Power of VitalSign6

Substantial evidence shows that depression is often rooted in childhood. A CDRC study found that with proper guidance and the right tools, primary care doctors can successfully detect and treat most depression cases without additional support of mental health personnel.

Dr. Trivedi, also Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the CDRC at UT Southwestern, recommends all middle and high school students get screened for depression through annual physicals before the start of the school year. He and his team developed VS6 to help primary care physicians screen and monitor depressive symptoms and guide treatment planning and medical decision-making with measurement-based care. Patients simply complete an online questionnaire, thus making screening for depression the sixth vital sign after body temperature, pulse rate, respiration rate, blood pressure, and pain.

Originally developed for adults, VS6 was adapted for pediatric use, thanks to funding from The Rees-Jones Foundation. The application has been modified to help meet the specialized needs of pediatric clinics, including monitoring of associated symptoms and conditions, such as attention deficit disorder, that are of particular concern to youth and their families.

Since the establishment of the PMDN in June 2017, Dr. Trivedi’s team has partnered with 13 pediatric clinics. With these clinics, almost 7,000 children and youth have been screened since then.
“The impact of VS6 is remarkable. Of 6,916 unique patients screened since the PMDN was established, 1,733 (or 25 percent) screened positive and 999 received a depressive diagnosis. 832 of the children entered measurement-based treatment, which resulted in a remission rate that is nearly five times better than the national average,” Dr. Trivedi said.

“The generous support from The Rees-Jones Foundation has allowed us to fundamentally change for the better the approach to depression and anxiety across medical clinics and educational institutions to positively impact the lives of tens of thousands of teens and youth across North Texas,” he added.

Empowering Physicians Through VitalSign6

About two years ago, BestNest Pediatrics in Frisco began using VitalSign6 to screen patients ages 12 and up for depression during wellness checkups. “We were right on board and wanted to help with UTSW research,” said pediatrician Dr. Stacy Terry.

Prior to clinic appointments, patients are asked to answer a series of questions. Once a patient tests positive for depression, a treatment plan is put into place, and patient data is monitored constantly by UTSW.

“In our patient population, anxiety is as common as depression, and VS6 also aids in that diagnosis. It helps identify problems with young adults who may not speak up easily regarding their feelings. We have had several teenage patients whose parents were not suspecting a mood disorder, and this tool opened the lines of communication and appropriate treatment was received. I feel that it allowed for earlier diagnosis before a true crisis state was reached,” Dr. Terry said.

Depression often begins early in life and can persist throughout a lifetime. Approximately 1 in 11 children experience some form of depression before the age of 14. The negative effect of depression on the developing adolescent brain undoubtedly have long-term consequences on their physical, emotional, and social well-being as adults. Dr. Terry sees great potential to provide better care for patients using VS6.

“With more data available as to the true prevalence of depression, I envision more services being offered to address the growing issue,” she said.

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