Making mental health care available to kids through pediatricians’ offices

Katy Hopkins, Ph.D., works to break cultural, social barriers in health care

For generations, health providers have offered mental health care to kids outside of the primary care or pediatricians office.

Studies show many children’s behavioral health issues go untreated and lead to deeper issues in adulthood. In response, more pediatric practices around the country are beginning to offer psychological care.

Norton Children’s Medical Group recently began integrating mental health care in its practices.

Katy Hopkins, Ph.D., pediatric psychologist, is now seeing patients at four Norton Children’s Medical Group offices — Dixie, Middletown, Elizabethtown and the Broadway office downtown — as well as at Norton Children’s Gynecology.

Integrating physical and mental health care makes it easier for kids to receive help.

“The biggest barrier to accessing quality mental health care in our society is easy access to treatment,” Dr. Hopkins said. “Having mental health specialists in pediatrician offices allows us to treat patients’ bodies and their minds at the same time.”

The daughter of a child psychologist

Born in Eastern Kentucky and raised in Southeast Ohio, Dr. Hopkins found herself in the middle of important conversations at an early age.

“My mother was a child psychologist, and I always seemed to want to create space for people to tell their stories,” she said.

With a degree in theater from New York University in New York City, Dr. Hopkins traveled the world doing social justice theater work in places like South Africa, India and Alaska.

In Alaska, she ran the children’s program at a women’s shelter and started doing advocacy work and training for youth violence, dating violence and bullying prevention.

“We’d create a production and write a play based around a teen topic, or sometimes we’d just rehearse solutions to their problems, and there is immense value in that,” Dr. Hopkins said.

Mentally healthier children grow into healthier adults

Dr. Hopkins earned her graduate degrees from the University of Louisville and led two mental health training clinics in underserved locations in the West End of Louisville.

Two years ago, she was invited to a communitywide meeting of people working with trauma victims. She sat on a roundtable with Erin R. Frazier, M.D., pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Group – Broadway.

Drs. Frazier and Hopkins then started an informal collaboration.

“We both recognized the need for better outcomes, and families in this community deserve better,” Dr. Hopkins said.

Dr. Hopkins officially joined Norton Healthcare in September 2018.

Integrating mental health care in pediatric practices should help children grow into thriving adults.

“You can have a tremendous impact on the long-term trajectory of an adult if you help treat them as a child,”Dr. Hopkins said. “The need for treatment is evident for every ZIP code across the area.”

Helping parents with a child’s mental health condition
Norton Children’s Medical Group

Our trusted pediatricians provide routine well checks and treat minor illnesses and injuries, often with same-day appointments.

Dr. Hopkins has worked with parents and children across the world and across the city of Louisville. And as a parent of two herself, she says one thing is certain: Parenting is hard.

“For parents who have kids dealing with emotional difficulties or behavioral issues, the best thing you can do is love them unconditionally and provide them with consistent structure,” she said.

Parents may struggle when their children express difficult feelings and may instinctively tell their children not to worry or be angry, but that message invalidates the way children feel, according to Dr. Hopkins. Parents can help set their kids up for a lifetime of success by acknowledging kids’ feelings while helping them find solutions to solve problems on their own (rather than solving problems for them).

Though she’s changed careers, Dr. Hopkins never feels too far from her theater background.

“One of the first rules of improv comedy is ‘Yes, and.’ That’s really what parenting is about. We can say, ‘Yes, I see you. Yes, you’re sad, you’re scared, and I’m going to help you with this. And you still have to go to school. And we’re going to work through this together. And I love you no matter what,” she said.