We are supporting an effort led by Austin-Travis County Integral Care to coordinate community mental health services for children and create a community plan to improve the mental health of youth throughout the county. As part of this, we participated in planning and facilitating the Austin Community Conversation on Teen and Young Adult Mental Health held on August 19th, which is part of a series of community dialogues on mental health sponsored by the Texas State Department of Health Services held across the state this summer. There were over 125 people in attendance representing a broad diversity of backgrounds and experiences. To me, the event was a great reminder of how valuable it can be to simply bring everyone to the table and get them talking. While there were amazing informative and moving panelists, the event also allowed for everyone to share their own expertise, whether it was insight gained from working on the frontlines as a mental health service provider to personal lessons learned from parenting a child with a mental illness.
The conversation touched on many issues effecting mental health care for children, and stigma was repeated identified as a major barrier to youth accessing mental health services and care. Attendees talked about how to address stigmatization and increase awareness of the signs, symptoms, and causes of mental illness and substance abuse. The need to name it, talk about it, and normalize it was driven home. As these themes emerged, it became clear to me: the only way that we can improve mental health care to children and challenge the stigmatization of mental illness is to be persistent in continuing the conversation, fostering safe opportunities for openness and honesty, and engaging others in the dialogue.