Willow Bay, Dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism,

 Moderated “The State of Child and Adolescent Mental Health” Conversation

NEW YORK, NY — Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton today took part in the Child Mind Institute Summit: The State of Child & Adolescent Mental Health in New York, jumpstarting a national dialogue around childhood and adolescent mental health. Secretary Clinton focused on solutions for families in this conversation with Child Mind Institute President Harold S. Koplewicz, MD, one of the nation’s most respected experts on child and adolescent mental health.  The summit was moderated by Willow Bay, dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

The invitation-only event, which explored where we stand and where we need to be on youth mental health, coincides with the publication of the Child Mind Institute’s 2017 Children’s Mental Health Report. The report examines unique factors in brain development that make adolescence a vital time of social and emotional growth as well as a significant risk period for mental health disorders.

Some notable excerpts from today’s conversation:

On the progress that has been made in mental health:

Secretary Clinton: “We certainly have improved people’s awareness, we have learned a lot more about how best to treat children and adolescents…We passed a law about parity between physical and mental health. It is nowhere near being implemented the way it should be, but at least we got it on the books. Hopefully it stays there. But we’re not funding, we’re not speaking out, we’re not doing enough to try to continue the progress to give people the tools they need in their homes, their communities across our country to both recognize and deal with mental health challenges.”

On the role of schools:

Secretary Clinton: “I think we have to do things differently everywhere, and school is one of those….I really think a key to this is making sure information is more readily available to people who interact with kids, parents, family members…We dump so much on schools to do all the time, and we expect teachers and counselors and everybody to be experts about everything having to do with kids, and indeed there is such a gap between maybe what their knowledge is…and their confidence that they can do anything about it. What are the best interventions? How do you try to help an individual child and how do you try to set a better environment for the classroom, for the whole school?”

On whether there are potential policy decisions that could help establish better “guard rails” for kids and social media/the Internet :

 Secretary Clinton: “This is an opportune time because there is a lot of questioning and even soul searching going on about technology. Clearly what happened in the election raises it, but it’s much broader than that, and it’s a discussion that we need to have because I really think there can be and should be guard rails…taking down those videos of al-Awlaki, the former cleric who was still radicalizing people years after his death. These are the kinds of things there should be, both self-regulatory discipline and outside pressure…With respect to social media, there has to be greater vigilance, not only from the government, but from parents’ groups, organized efforts by mental health groups to keep beating back this idea that somehow ‘it’s both good, it’s both bad, and it all goes out in the wash,’ because if people are vulnerable, it’s mostly bad. And because we don’t know exactly who is most vulnerable, and we can help parents and teachers and others try to recognize symptoms, but we may not have enough understanding to intervene unless we do put those guardrails up.”

On the need for mental health curricula in schools:

Dr. Koplewicz: “I believe that mental health curriculums should be standard in every middle school and high school. So if you want to destigmatize something…the more facts kids get, the more understanding about their brain development, I think there’s the possibility that you can start talking about the bad things that happen to your brain…They should learn about how to take care of their brain.”

Secretary Clinton: “I think this is one of those areas that has to be made a priority, and groups outside the education system…need to come forward with a curriculum to the Boards of Education, to the administrations of school districts, and just lobby like crazy to get those into teacher training, into school programing. I’m not saying it would be easy, in some parts of the country it will be harder than other parts, but if there could be some standardized approach…because you can’t expect educators to do it,  and you don’t want some drug manufacturer who’s basically just pushing the drug piece of the treatment, you really want the experts, the professionals, to come up with such a standardized approach. Then I think we would have a fighting chance…”

On racial disparities in the recognition and diagnosis of mental health disorders:

Dr. Koplewicz: “The sad part about child mental health disorders is that they’re equal opportunity disorders, rich or poor, black, white, or yellow, we all get hit with the same percentages. What’s really troubling, though, is the rates of treatment. Kids in poverty, kids of color, not only because of a lack of access but because of stigma related to these disorders and a lack of awareness in many communities are less likely to get help….We’ve taken a bad juvenile justice system and made it into a terrible mental health system. We have a big problem in this nation about getting care for everyone, but in particular kids of poverty.”

Secretary Clinton: “There are assumptions that go hand-in-hand with the way kids who do act out, do have disciplinary problems in school are treated, because clearly the numbers are staggering…black boys followed by black girls are much more likely to be suspended or expelled or punished or put into special ed for behaviors that are, at root, mental health problems… So the assumptions that this is a child with a disorder or this is just a disorderly child stand behind so much of how we treat kids….For a lot of low income highly stressed families, the verbal interactions predominantly negative – ‘don’t do this, don’t go there, you’re going to get in trouble, you stop that’ – and it’s not out of malice, it’s out of a sense of trying to protect in the best way you know how to try to guide and discipline your child.  But with that constant negative messaging and with the assumptions that kids are often unfortunately tagged with when they go into schools, the problem becomes greater because what could be a mental health problem does evolve into a criminal justice problem, and then young people are really lost.”  which leads to young people being very lost…Now jails and prisons are basically are our mental health holding facilities without adequate treatment, and that’s particularly tragic for kids.”

On how to speak with kids about sexual harassment in the news:

Dr. Koplewicz: “I think that there are teachable moments. The number one thing I would always tell parents is not ignore what is going on in the news. Don’t think you kid’s not hearing about it. Even if they’re young children, versus teenagers. If you don’t talk to them about, somebody else is talking to them about it…It’s a matter of having a discussion, especially with a teenager, about the facts of what’s going on, but more importantly, behavior. This is the moment when parents should talk with their daughters and their sons about what is appropriate and what it means to ask permission, and what it means to deny permission, and respecting someone else as a person, but also respecting their body, their rights, their space…This is not going away. This is actually, in my opinion, one of the best things that’s happening in society in the respect that it’s a watershed moment….this is the kind of thing that can change our culture.”

Watch the entire Child Mind Institute Summit here (video begins at 1:04:30 mark).

Photos from the Summit can be downloaded here.

 The 2017 Children’s Mental Health Report investigates the promise and risk of adolescence through a neuroscience lens. It explores the research on brain development through adolescence, and why adolescence is a risk period for stress, drug abuse and mental health disorders. The report argues forcefully that to help teens and young adults make good choices, parents must be able to speak them honestly, without blame or shame. Science offers a compelling framework for that conversation.

About the Child Mind Institute

The Child Mind Institute is an independent nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders. Our teams work every day to deliver the highest standards of care, advance the science of the developing brain, and empower parents, professionals and policymakers to support children when and where they need it most. Together with our supporters, we’re helping children reach their full potential in school and in life. We share all of our resources freely and do not accept any funding from the pharmaceutical industry. Learn more at childmind.org.