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Youth mental health solutions focus of conference

Event brought together educators, health professionals

Increasing support systems for youth experiencing mental health challenges will take a concerted effort among parents, educators and community organizations, presenters said during the 2023 African American Behavioral Health Conference. The Ohio State University and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) hosted the conference at the Fawcett Center last week in conjunction with the April observance of Minority Health Month.

The conference brought together educators, health care professionals and community members to discuss interdisciplinary approaches to health care and reducing the social stigma surrounding mental health, said Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity Executive Director Ange-Marie Hancock.

“It’s the people who are closest to the issue who are the best predictors and best sources of solutions,” she said. “Researchers, those who are on campus and through our faculty affiliates as well as the folks who do the research through our institute, help aggregate those solutions … and help policymakers scale the solutions.”

OhioMHAS Director Lori CrissMaking mental health resources more widely available and effective is one of Gov. Mike DeWine’s priorities, said OhioMHAS Director Lori Criss.

“We’re working to create a system where everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible and end the stigma that keeps people from getting help,” she said. “Stigma is different for every community. I grew up in Appalachia and we have a lot of stigma around mental health, but it’s very different in the African American community. Knowing that and being attentive to that and not just expecting that the same solution will work everywhere is very important.”  

Issues addressed during the conference included workforce development in the behavioral health industry and strategies to increase support systems for youth with mental health challenges.

“Our communities are our best resources for what we like to call ‘wicked problems,’” said Wendy Smooth, Ohio State’s senior vice provost for inclusive excellence. “We know that when we do this work and we do it collectively in partnership with communities across the state, we are fulfilling our land-grant mission and our commitment as the flagship institution of the state.”

Ohio State's Wendy SmoothHancock led a panel discussion on youth suicide prevention with Beverly Vandiver, director of Ohio State’s Quantitative Methodology Center, and Nicole King Cotton, assistant professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine.

Schools can serve as support networks for youth by providing activities that boost self-esteem and offer opportunities for positive social interactions, Vandiver said.

“We have to think about who’s involved in sports, who’s involved in extracurricular activities, and those are so vital to the socialization,” she said. “Also, what is the social support of family and community? Those are really important.”

Parents and community members play a crucial role in counteracting negative interactions that youth encounter on social media, Cotton said.  

“I’m the parent of two young children and I’m right in the thick of it. For me, it’s about education,” she said. “How do we change the narrative on social media, in interpersonal conversations? How do we give them a different narrative of what it means to be part of the culture?”

For more information about Minority Health Month and to access a list of upcoming events compiled by the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, visit https://mih.ohio.gov/Minority-Health-Month.

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