In light of several suicide clusters and an emerging need to raise awareness of mental health issues, the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and the Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing cosponsored the 2016 Adolescent Mental Wellness Conference in the South San Francisco Conference Center Aug. 5-6.
The conference featured around 50 speakers and panelists total. Attendees could choose which speeches and forums to attend; the conference also presented “Unmasked,” a short film about suicide created by students from Gunn High School and Palo Alto High School last year.
“In the spring of 2015, after the second cluster of teen suicides, what we kept hearing in the community was everyone talking at each other,” said Sherri Sager, Chief Government and Community Relations Officer at Lucile Packard. “It was all of this noise, and everyone wanted an instant solution.”
Although the Bay Area community has been searching for ways to provide more mental health support clinics and resources, most efforts have been stand-alone. This conference took a more unified approach. Rather than limit the discussion to a panel of policymakers, the conference encouraged discussion among educators, clinicians, family members and youth in the hopes of facilitating further understanding and change through a more diverse range of perspectives.
“By bringing together [multiple parties], part of our hope is that there will be a chance to hear the voice of young people and parents who are particularly concerned about mental health [and] to understand what they see as the key issues,” said Steven Adelsheim, clinical professor at the Stanford Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
Amidst the chaos of mental health issues in the Bay Area, many people are pointing fingers and targeting criticism at specific groups rather than working together to enact change and think up a concrete solution, according to Sager.
“Let’s bring everyone together; let’s put everyone on the same page,” Sager said. “Let’s provide information that is helpful and useful and gets everyone talking about concrete solutions as opposed to playing the blame game.”
The organizers of this event hope that increased dialogue will gradually encourage stronger systems of support. The conference represents an ongoing effort by Stanford to collaborate with the community on issues of mental health.
Adelsheim initiated the Center three years ago with the goal of providing greater youth access to mental health care. The Center is open to the public, although a large percentage of its clients are Stanford students and other adolescents in the Palo Alto community. However, it is working on expanding its reach by participating in state, national and even global projects.
“[The Center] was basically created to support efforts for connecting adolescents and youth with early medical support,” Center manager Vicki Harrison said. “There’s a real need for that nationally, and [people in general] don’t do a very good job of trying to identify mental conditions early.”
In an attempt to improve its reach, the Center has committed to several key initiatives for the coming years, including the integration of the Headspace program, an early intervention clinic model founded in Australia. These clinics, serving youth from ages 12-25, would provide services ranging from mental health care to physical care to educational support at low costs.
Adelsheim hopes that the Center’s new initiatives and leadership at the conference will contribute to its ability to “create a context for us to bring together supports around early mental health care.”
Contact Emma Cockerell at emma.m.c.2000 ‘at’ gmail.com and Ethan Teo at ethanteo99 ‘at’ gmail.com.