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Conference at UB to address youth mental health crisis, encourage collaboration across sectors

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Tue, May 28th 2024 07:00 am

By the University at Buffalo

The Supporting Mental Health and Advocating for Resources Together (SMART) collaborative, in partnership with the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, will hold a conference to address the youth mental health crisis and the growing challenges faced by young people and their families on Wednesday, May 29, at 9 a.m. in Norton Hall on the university’s North Campus.

More than 300 attendees from UB, local school districts, community organizations, and mental health agencies are expected to attend this milestone event for SMART, a collaborative launched in 2022 that consists of area professionals dedicated to supporting the mental health of children and youth.

Annahita Ball, Ph.D., an associate professor in the UB School of Social Work and a SMART steering committee member, has been assisting with the collaborative’s “collective impact” approach to help develop a common agenda that strengthens relationships across different sectors, agencies and organizations.

“A primary focus of this conference is to make sure education is included with other mental health providers, child welfare and youth service agencies,” said Ball, an expert in school-based mental health services and school-community partnerships. “Concentrating efforts in this area can help bridge the long-standing divide between schools and mental health service providers.”

Ball said children and families often encounter barriers caused by disconnect and fragmentation. One agency might address specific needs, while a particular school does the same, but to be truly successful and achieve optimal benefit, they must work together.

“The historically siloed approach to mental health services doesn’t provide many useful precedents for what we’d like to accomplish through ‘collective impact,’ ” Ball said. “But we’ve been working toward that end and this upcoming conference can further that momentum.”

The conference opens with a keynote address from Melanie Sage, Ph.D., an adjunct instructor in UB’s School of Social Work, titled “Mental Health and Social Media,” followed by panels from the perspectives of parents, students and pediatricians. A full conference schedule is available online.

Concerning trends surrounding youth mental health were worrisome before the COVID-19 pandemic and have grown even more alarming in more recent years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says adolescent mental health continues to worsen in the U.S.

A CDC report using 10 years of data found that, in 2021, more than 4 in 10 students felt persistently sad or hopeless. More than 1 in 5 seriously considered suicide.

“The numbers get even higher looking at different subgroups,” Ball said. “Black youth, LGBTQ+ and kids in poverty, for instance, show not only higher numbers, but trends that are escalating faster.”

SMART is comprised of representatives from Erie 1 BOCES, Erie 2 BOCES, Erie County, Live Well Erie, public school districts in Erie County, the Erie County Department of Mental Health, social-emotional health experts, and community-based organizations that support mental health and students in crisis.

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