Protecting our children is paramount
in healthy brain development
By Paul Richard
There is little in the world that matters as much to me as does the health, safety and welfare of a young person.
It’s not important to me that every child becomes the next president of the United States, or a corporate executive, or a media personality, or a star athlete. It is important, however, that we keep young people safe and healthy so they have the opportunity to pursue and fulfill their dreams – whatever those dreams and aspirations may be.
So I am especially drawn to the research – including research that has been funded in part by the SHINE Initiative – that has investigated brain changes and brain development associated with childhood maltreatment and its connection to the emergence of psychiatric illness later in life.
A recent article authored by an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin states the brain is most delicate and impressionable during childhood and that it physically develops not only in the first years of childhood but through teen years and even into young adulthood.
Though scientists and researchers continue to examine what goes wrong in the brain when a young person is maltreated, there is sufficient evidence to suggest there are links to depression, anxiety and schizophrenia that manifest themselves later in life.
To be sure, not every young person who is exposed to stressful events and behaviors (such as abuse, neglect, homelessness, witness to acts of violence etc.) will necessarily be diagnosed later in life with depression. A young person’s support systems – beginning with loving and nurturing parents, and extending to teachers, coaches, and other caregivers, can be invaluable in diminishing the negative impacts of early life stressors. It’s also possible that the brain of a youngster that experiences multiple traumatic episodes will develop in complete good health.
I conclude by stating that I have yet to uncover a study that reveals the brain development of a child is adversely effected when that young person is loved, nurtured and protected. Let’s do all that we can to foster an environment in which young people are given every opportunity to grow and mature into “brain healthy” people.
Youth Mental Health First Aid makes sense
By Paul Richard
On October 24th I attended the Kennedy Forum’s inaugural mental health conference in Boston. As noted by Patrick Kennedy, the Forum’s purpose is to “create a national conversation that allows us to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness, and to achieve parity by treating the brain the same way we treat the rest of the body.”
Policymakers, healthcare professionals, researchers and others discussed the history of the Community Mental Health Act that was engineered by President John Kennedy 50 years ago. Later in the day such topics as early intervention, healthcare integration and community recognition and support were spotlighted.
Closer to home, on Tuesday evening (November 12th) a program was presented in the gym at St. Peter’s Church, Worcester, that promoted conversation about mental illness. Seventy-five youth basketball coaches, Girl Scout leaders, religious education instructors, and students from Assumption College who serve as after-school mentors, gathered for Youth Mental Health First Aid training. Given that we train and certify coaches and volunteers in CPR, and other emergency first aid, and given that it is FAR MORE LIKELY that the young people we mentor will encounter a mental health crisis versus another health emergency, it only makes sense that programs like MHFA be implemented in communities across our country.
What the youth volunteers at St. Peter’s Parish were offered by a certified trainer from Community Healthlink was an abbreviated version of what is an 8-hour training that helps people who interact with youth to better understand and respond to youth who may be experiencing a mental health challenge or are in crisis.
Though coachers and others are not now licensed to screen, diagnose and counsel youth who live with mental illness, it reminded them that through their respective recreational and social programs, they are likely to routinely encounter one or several young people who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety and/or bipolar disorder. Consider that if we apply national percentages, it means that in a community program (like the one at St. Peter’s) that serves 1000 young people, 100 or more are likely to live with one or more forms of mental illness.
The Youth Mental Health First Aid program, which is an addendum to a program first developed in Australia more than a decade ago and that is now offered in most every state across our nation, promotes 5 basic steps: Assess for risk of suicide or harm; Listen non-judgmentally; Give reassurance and information; Encourage appropriate professional help; Encourage self-help and other support strategies.
To be sure, the Youth Mental Health First Aid training is but one step to gaining greater understanding of mental illness and its impact on someone’s health and well-being. But anything we can do to improve our approach, perception and understanding of mental illness merits our support.
The SHINE Initiative’s latest production of “Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds”, features discussion with Gina Vincent and Steven McKeown, who discuss the impact of mental illness on juvenile offenders.
Gina is an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and co-director of the National Youth Screening & Assessment Project Center for Mental Health Services Research. Steve is First Assistant Chief Probation Officer, Worcester County Juvenile Court.
Their conversation with Paul Richard, the SHINE Initiative’s executive director, can be seen on Worcester Community Cable Access Channel 13 on Nov. 29th at 6:30pm and on Sunday, December 1st, at 10:30am and 9:00pm.
It can also be seen on-line at www.wccatv.com.
Hosted by Orchard Hills Athletic Club
The directors and staff of Orchard Hills Athletic Club in Lancaster (MA) hosted the 2nd annual “Spin for Children’s Mental Health” on Sunday morning, November 3rd. Several “spinners” rode more than 20 miles each on stationary spin bikes to promote mental health in children and adolescents as a mainstream health issue. A total of $2000 was raised on behalf of the SHINE Initiative to support mental health awareness and education throughout the region. Orchard Hills Athletic Club served as the presenting sponsor, with other support derived from Realtyology, Parker Aerospace, Kidder Limousine Service, and the Butler Did It.
Congratulations to the Campus Ministries students at St. Bernard Central Catholic High School, Fitchburg (MA), upon being named recipients of the SHINE Initiative’s 2013 Community Hero Award, in recognition of their efforts to join the conversation about mental illness in young people and to help make it a mainstream health issue.
Left to right: Ed Manzi, chairman & CEO of Fidelity Bank, Sister Mary Naccarato (PBVM), Campus Minister, Robert Blanchard, principal, Aleah Grady, Campus Ministry officer, James Conry, headmaster, Tara Hebert, Campus Ministry officer, Paul Richard, SHINE Initiative executive director, and Micheal Alario, Campus Ministry president.
The SHINE Initiative’s executive director Paul Richard is among a group of individuals whose comments appear in Worcester Connects, a new initiative of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette that provides an interactive platform where members of the community come together to identify important issues, engage in thoughtful dialogue and promote local events, with a focus on creating solutions and fostering innovation in Worcester County.
The SHINE Initiative is pleased and proud to be host of the “Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds” television series airing on Worcester Community Cable Access (WCCA TV Channel 13 & Channel 398).
Our first show began airing on Oct. 29th and will air again on Friday, Nov 1st at 6:30pm, as well as Sunday, Nov 3rd at 10:30am and 9:00pm.
The inaugural show featured interviews and discussion with Kevin Bradley, executive director of Genesis Club, Worcester, and Robert Bureau, Associate Director / Adjunct Faculty in the Rehab Counseling Graduate Program at Assumption College, Worcester.
The show can also be viewed by going to wccatv.com.
Additional shows, whose focus is on child and adolescent mental health, will be produced monthly.
Click the TV13 wcca icon below to watch the “Healthy Bodies, Health Minds” television series with Paul Richard, Kevin Bradley, and Robert Bureau.
The SHINE Initiative’s 7th annual gala fundraiser
October 23rd, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
At the Doubletree Hilton, Leominster
‘Join the Conversation’ becomes dominant theme
A wonderful message emerged from our “Keep Your Mind Open” annual gala fundraiser and celebration on October 23rd. Our 250 attendees included corporate donors, healthcare professionals, educators, numerous employees from Fidelity Bank, and many other friends from several communities. Our audience also included many young people from high schools in North Central Massachusetts.
A highlight of this year’s 7th annual celebration was the presentation of our Community Hero Award to the Campus Ministries students from St. Bernard Central Catholic High School, Fitchburg.
It was very fitting that they were the first youth to be recognized with this award as they opened the door to their school last winter to host our first conversation about mental illness. Since then we’ve continued the conversation with hundreds of students at other schools in Central Massachusetts and we are scheduled to soon engage in dialogue with even more high school and middle school students, as well as teachers, parents and youth coaches and mentors. We will also be working closely with students and their advisors at Fitchburg State University, Worcester State University, and Mount Wachusett Community College.
It’s so very clear that the voice for mental health awareness is growing and becoming louder, stronger and more confident each and every day.
At the conclusion of this year’s “Keep Your Mind Open”, we unveiled our newest theme – “Join the Conversation” – and invited our guests to continue the conversation about mental illness. By making it part of our everyday dialogue with family, friends and neighbors, the stigma that has historically overshadowed this issue will erode and mental illness will truly become a mainstream health issue.
Go to our EVENTS page to see the list of generous donors and sponsors!