Breaking down stigma: 5 things to know about our Adolescent Mental Wellness Conference

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In response to the growing need for mental health resources for Bay Area adolescents and children, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford is joining the Stanford University School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Services and Pediatrics Division of Adolescent Medicine to host the first annual Adolescent Mental Wellness Conference on August 5 and 6 at the South San Francisco Conference Center. The conference will bring together hundreds of community members — including policymakers, educators, clinicians, teens and their families — to explore approaches and identify solutions for breaking down the stigma that surrounds mental health and for supporting the mental health needs of children and adolescents.

Dr. Steven Adelsheim, director of the Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing and a speaker at the upcoming conference, weighs in on five things to know about the conference.

  1. We are gathering to mutually recognize the crisis and explore ways to begin addressing the core challenges faced by adolescents living with mental illness. Our nation’s current high rates of depression, alcohol and drug abuse, pregnancy, violence, and low college graduation rates among our youth and adolescents compared to other industrialized nations indicate that something is missing in our support for young people. To address these issues for our next generation, we must first break down the societal barrier that surrounds the topic of mental health and bring together diverse voices to carry out a collective conversation. Over the course of the two-day event, there will be opportunities for policymakers, educators, clinicians, teens and families to interact with youth mental health experts from across the Bay Area and to participate in sessions of interest specific to their backgrounds. Educators will have the chance to become versed in various models of treatment for mental health and regulations related to mental health records in schools. For parents, the conference will teach them ways they can support their children’s mental health needs more effectively and how to best interface with their children’s doctors. For teens, we’ll discuss important warning signs of mental illness and share information on where they can access resources to get help for themselves and their peers. And for policymakers, the conference will be a chance to hear from each of these constituents about the most troublesome issues related to youth mental wellness so they can better prioritize their actions. Ultimately, it is our hope that the cross-dialogue between these different stakeholders will result in actionable steps to begin addressing core challenges.
  1. Each day of the two-day conference will include 10 breakout sessions as well as an opening and closing plenary. Speakers include keynote Darrell Steinberg, mayor-elect of Sacramento, former California senate pro tempore (author of Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act), and director of policy and advocacy at the UC Davis Behavioral Health Center of Excellence; State Senator Jim Beall; Assemblyman Rob Bonta; and State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson.

Breakout sessions span a variety of topics including:

  • Emerging Mental Health Apps & Technologies
  • Adolescent Suicide Prevention, with Unmasked film screening & discussion panel
  • Transgender and Gender Diverse Youth: Pre-K and Above
  • Mental Health Support in a Cultural Context

In addition, the breakout session “Promising Models of Early Intervention: ‘headspace’ and First Episode Psychosis Programs,” moderated by Jennifer Ng’andu, Senior Program Officer of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will explore the innovative structures that the Stanford School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences is working to implement. Specifically, the Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing is working to set up a network of Youth Mental Health Centers that will offer confidential, low-cost physical and mental health care for young people ages 12 to 25 right in their communities, following the model of a national initiative in Australia, called “headspace.” Australia’s existing headspace centers offer stand-alone, integrated care sites with age-appropriate care for teenagers and young adults who are facing early life challenges, including issues like relationship breakups, bullying, sexual orientation, depression, anxiety or other mild-moderate health conditions. The centers also provide health care support for the youth’s families.

  1. California policymakers will speak about the steps they are taking to improve access to mental health resources. On a national level, the data on adolescent mental health and educational success is of great concern. To affect immediate change, we can start by working with policymakers at the community level. At this conference, we will hear from a number of local legislators, who will explain where legislation is headed in presentations like “Mental Health Legislation: Where It’s Been & Where It’s Going,” led by Jon Perez, PhD, of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. We will also gain insight into the policies and strategies being developed for young people through sessions such as “Models of Integrated Care for Meeting Adolescents’ Health Care Needs,” which will give an overview of the evidence-based practice being implemented for mental health screening, diagnosis, treatment and more.
  1. It’s a platform for teens to have a voice in the conversation. The Adolescent Mental Wellness Conference will be an opportunity for teens and their families to offer their perspectives on the current mental health care system and the issues that should be prioritized in order to improve care moving forward. We’ll hear from a Henry M. Gunn High School student as part of a panel discussion focused on teen suicide prevention, led by Shashank Joshi, MD, an associate professor in the Stanford School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. The panel will include a screening of the Unmasked, a documentary film created by 10 Bay Area high school students in an effort to open new pathways for discussion around the topic of teen suicide and ultimately inspire a message of hope within the community.
  1. We’ll focus on how to support the mental health needs of children and adolescents in the Bay Area, including national expertise and implications. Following a cluster of teen suicides in Palo Alto during the 2014–2015 school year, national attention was drawn to the Bay Area’s treatment of mental health among adolescents. Today, health care providers are working as a community to improve access to resources through the Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing. In the Bay Area, our center has established itself to begin shifting the culture of adolescent wellbeing to build skills, resilience, and opportunity for a healthy path into adulthood. In partnership with the Stanford School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, we have laid the groundwork for change on a national level by offering expertise in early mental health support and developing self-regulation tools, school mental health programs and suicide prevention resources. It is our hope that the conference will result in actionable steps for each audience to champion moving forward.

To register for the conference, visit www.stanfordmentalhealth.com. There, you’ll also find a link to the full agenda so you can get a head start on planning for the sessions you’ll attend during the two-day event.

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