SPRINGFIELD — The Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts (PHIWM) is launching the Springfield Youth Mental Health Coalition, a collaboration of municipalities, public health, schools, social-service providers, and youth working to lift up issues and resources for mental health among Springfield families and youth.
The coalition’s kickoff event, in partnership with the Springfield Public Forum, will feature Dr. Alfiee Berland-Noble, a noted national speaker on mental-health issues in BIPOC youth and young adults across all marginalized identities (including LGBTQ+ and disabilities).
Through funding from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Office of Problem Gambling and the Davis Foundation, the coalition will develop a communications campaign to normalize healthy conversations about mental health, work with schools on tools to support youth mental health, provide trainings to teachers and other providers, develop a peer-to-peer mentor framework, and provide educational webinars such as the partnerships with Estoy Aquí and the Springfield Public Forum.
“For years, we have watched youth health survey data locally, statewide, and nationally highlight the growing anxiety, depression, and suicidality rates of our young people,” said Jessica Collins, PHIWM’s executive director. “We recognize the strengths and courage of young people to do something about this. Together — across age and sector — the Youth Mental Health Coalition is working to lift up incredible insights and ideas of youth and families as well as best-practice strategies to promote youth engagement and protect youth from community environments that exacerbate poor mental health.”
This coalition was formed after an extensive process led by PHIWM to gather information from community voices, local mental-health service-provider experts, and data from existing assessments of community health needs. The planning process narrowed from a list of 15 potential issues to one: youth mental and behavioral health. The recently released report, “Mental Health Inequities Among Springfield Eighth Grade Students,” shows the need for expanding and destigmatizing youth mental-health services.
“To our Springfield community, we invite your participation on the coalition — to offer behavioral-health trainings, education, and resources to your staff and families or attend the educational webinars to learn how to better support our local youth,” said Tiffany Rufino, PHIWM’s Youth Mental Health Coalition manager.
A key component of the coalition is the Beat the Odds youth group convened by Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services. Ariana Williams, director of Public Health for that organization, noted that “Beat the Odds is a safe space for our youth to express their thoughts or feelings without feeling judged or dismissed. Together, we are empowered, and we aim to support one another and youth all over the city. With youth mental health arising as an emerging public-health issue across the nation, our hope is that we can help erase the stigma around mental health for youth and families and promote the importance of a prioritizing a healthy mental state.”
In addition, an overarching advisory committee of residents, agencies, schools, and mental-health providers has been convened, with representatives from the African Diaspora Mental Health Assoc., Baystate Health, Behavioral Health Network, Davis Foundation, Estoy Aquí, Gándara Center, Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services, New North Citizens Council, Out Now, PHIWM, the Springfield Office of Health and Racial Equity, Springfield Public Schools, Square One, and Tamera Crenshaw – Tools for Success Counseling, LLC.