This week, I joined hundreds of other youth-serving professionals at the 2023 Aspen Forum on Children & Families. I love attending events like these. I always meet interesting people, learn a whole lot, and leave feeling inspired. While there were gems in all of the sessions, the panel titled “The New Mental Health Agenda” was particularly enlightening. I encourage you to keep an eye out for the recording to watch the whole discussion, but in the meanwhile, here are my key takeaways:
We need to reframe how we talk about mental health. It’s likely not surprising to any of you that we need to destigmatize mental health issues, but how exactly do we do that? Dr. Matt Biel asserts that we need to start talking about mental health simply as a universal part of the human condition – because that’s what it is. He shared that by age 40, nearly 8 in 10 adults have experienced a mental health episode. If mental health care is utilized by such a large portion of our population, we need to start framing these services as public resources that communities need to invest in – the same way they invest in schools, rec centers and libraries.
We need to rethink what mental health care looks like and where you can access it. We are facing a major shortage of mental health care professionals – and this is a particularly urgent issue in hospital settings, as the pandemic led more mental health professionals to switch to private practice and or telehealth roles. Dr. K. Ron-Li Liaw explained that a child’s mental health is related to their sense of security, stability and safety – which means the health sector can’t address the youth mental health crisis alone. In her role as Mental Health in Chief of Children’s Hospital of Colorado, the hospital has partnered with the school district to create schools from the ground up that embed mental health services into the fabric of the community (including assembling a mental health team made up of hospital staff). We also need to acknowledge that mental health support doesn’t always have to come from social workers or psychiatrists. Dr. Biel has piloted a program in DC that leverages a mentorship approach to create professional models of peer to peer support. We need more creative partnerships like these to provide children and families resources in more accessible ways.
We need to more effectively promote the resources that already exist. During the panel, Michael Warren spoke about the services that the Maternal and Child Health Bureau provides. While some of the approaches to providing care (like evidence-based home visits) vary by state, the National Maternal Mental Health Hotline* is available to everyone. I had never heard of the National Maternal Mental Health Hotline, have you? Now, this is of course a good opportunity to spread the word (I’ve provided details below) but even more than that, it’s a message to all of us: We need to do a better job highlighting resources that our communities can tap into. We have the internet at our fingertips, more social media platforms than ever before, but we still struggle to spread the word to the communities we’re trying to reach.
The statistics on youth mental health are absolutely terrifying. The road ahead simultaneously feels like a marathon and a sprint. We must act swiftly and strategically. The silver lining is that we are finally having these conversations on a larger scale. The current crisis is not only an opportunity, but a mandate, for us to create meaningful, lasting changes to our mental health care systems so that they can effectively serve all children and families.
*National Maternal Mental Health Hotline is a free, confidential hotline for pregnant and new moms in English and Spanish. Call or text 1-833-943-5746 (1-833-9-HELP4MOMS)