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Overcoming cultural barriers to youth mental health access

An upcoming Stanford conference will focus on bridging cultural and generational divides to better address youth mental health needs.

Teens and their parents don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to mental health issues — and the generational gap can be more pronounced for immigrant families.

In 2016, Stanford researchers examining youth mental health concerns in the Bay Area heard from both sides of the divide. Some Asian young people reported their parents considered mental illness an excuse for not excelling academically or a problem that a teen could overcome on their own. Some of the parents said they struggled to square what they knew with what their children were experiencing in this country.

These findings informed this year’s Adolescent Mental Wellness Conference, which will center on the theme of “Overcoming Cultural Barriers to Access.”

Beginning on Friday, the two-day conference is open to teens and parents, policymakers, educators and clinicians. It is hosted by Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and the Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing.

Shashank Joshi, MD, director of training in child and adolescent psychiatry and director of school mental health services at Packard Children’s, recently spoke with Stanford Children’s Health blog about the conference and youth mental health. He said:

Unfortunately, within our society there is a stigma around the topic of mental illness among teens, parents, and the broader community alike, and this creates a barrier that can prevent young people from getting the help they need. The best way for us to decrease this stigma is by talking openly about mental health issues. The conference is not only a place for that open dialogue, but our hope is that it will empower everyone from lawmakers to educators to young people to speak up about mental health.

High school experiences for today's youth can be very different from what their parents went through, Joshi said, and several sessions will delve into these differences, including panels on cultural and generational divides and the experience of non-binary youth, as well as mental health needs of college students of color and of immigrant families.

The conference also will explore the potential mental health impact of California’s recent marijuana legalization and discuss media depictions of suicide, with the second season of "13 Reasons Why," a teen series with disturbing themes, on the cusp of being released.

Joshi said he will participate in a Friday panel about distinguishing between typical teen behavior versus signs of mental distress. For those who are unable to attend the conference, he recommended several mental health resources, saying,

A child’s best mental health outcome depends not on one provider but on a cohesive system of care with many touch points, resources and compassionate representatives throughout the community. There are many avenues to get support — from school resources, community partnerships and clinical care.

Photo by Jesús Rodríguez

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