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Whole Bear Care is About Easy Access to Mental Health Support

Nikita Rodrigues, Ph.D.

Dr. Nikita Rodrigues believes a child’s physical and mental health go hand in hand. As a Whole Bear Care clinical psychologist at Children’s National Hospital, she brings mental health care for children to families in need. This program’s goal is to make these vital resources accessible in a low-stress environment during routine care in a family’s medical home.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the mental health crisis for children and their families. Kids have experienced increased isolation, anxiety, negative feelings and episodes of cyberbullying, she explains. “We are all facing a lack of control in the midst of this pandemic, but the lack of control that children face is on a different level,” she says.

Dr. Rodrigues recently helped a family whose young child was very anxious about returning to school. He also experienced a shooting that happened uncomfortably close to home. A telehealth visit gave Dr. Rodrigues a unique opportunity to peek into his life. “He showed me the bullet holes in his wall and described the panic he felt both at home and in the community,” she says. “We were able connect him to evidence-based trauma treatment and at the same time, work with the school to promote his feelings of safety in that environment.”

Working as a psychologist within primary care enables Dr. Rodrigues to provide families with immediate and short-term intervention while they work to connect to longer-term supports that often have lengthy referral processes. She explains that when primary care providers identify a mental health need and give a community-based referral, only about a quarter of those families follow through. This means most of those children don’t get the mental health care they need. “But if a provider says, ‘My friend Dr. Rodrigues will talk to you right here in the clinic,’ it lessens the steps required and decreases their stress,” she says. “It saves time and resolves problems for families and kids faster.”