Since 2009, at least 15 young people in Palo Alto have died by suicide. For the last several years, adolescent mental health experts from Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford have been partnering with many other community organizations to improve options for teens' mental health care.
'The primary health issue for young people ages 12 to 25 is mental health,' says Steven Adelsheim, MD, associate chair for community partnerships in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford. 'Kids this age are generally pretty healthy as a group, but the issue that is most common during this period is mental health-related problems.'
Unfortunately, the stigma around mental health often prevents people from talking about the issue or getting help.
Adelsheim adds, 'Access for mental health support is not nearly as strong as the access for asthma or diabetes or obesity or other conditions. And we wouldn’t allow it to be this hard to get health care for any other condition. But the stigma issues are so big, and the discomfort talking about it is so big, that mental health care is much harder for people to come by.'
To improve access to mental health care, the hospital's experts have worked closely with people at other local hospitals and school districts, as well as with local teenagers and families, on efforts ranging from establishment of a crisis team in the Stanford Health Care/Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Emergency Department to securing funding for a test of an early-intervention program that would give young people early mental health support. They've also launched the Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing, worked to pass a state bill that requires all California school districts to adopt suicide prevention and wellness policies for students in grades 7 to 12, and much more. (A recent story in the Palo Alto Weekly also provides more details about the hospital's planned initiatives.)
The new issue of Packard Children's News also includes a practical Q&A for teenagers and parents who have questions about mental health. It gives advice about such topics as when teens should get help from an adult for a friend's mental health problems, how to distinguish ordinary stress and low moods from clinical depression, and where to get more help. For anyone with concerns about a teenager's mental health, it's definitely worth a read.
Previously: Adolescent mental health the focus of upcoming Stanford conference, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital partners with high schools on student mental health programs and Neuroscience camp: Teens learn about mental health
Photo by Toni Bird and Shaun Roberts