Growing support systems for youth facing mental health challenges will take a coordinated effort among parents, educators and community organizations, presenters said during the 2023 African American Behavioral Health Conference. Ohio State University and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) hosted the conference last week in conjunction with April’s observance of Minority Health Month at the Fawcett Center.

The conference brought together academics, health care professionals and community members to discuss interdisciplinary approaches to health care and reduce social stigma surrounding mental health, the Kirwan Institute said. For Race and Ethnic Studies Executive Director Ange-Marie Hancock.

“It’s the people who are closest to the problem who are the best predictors and the best sources of solutions,” he said. “Researchers, both on campus and through our faculty affiliates, as well as those who conduct research through our institutes, help bring these solutions together … and help policymakers scale the solutions.”

Making mental health resources more widely available and effective is one of Gov. Mike DeWine’s priorities, OhioMHAS Director Lori Criss said.

“We’re working to create a system where everyone has a fair and just chance to be as healthy as possible and end the stigma that prevents people from getting help,” she said. “The stigma is different for every community. I grew up in Appalachia and we have a lot of stigma around mental health, but it’s very different in the African American community. It’s very important to know that and be focused on that and expect the same solution to work everywhere.”

Topics addressed during the conference included workforce development in the behavioral health industry and strategies to enhance support systems for youth with mental health challenges.

“Our communities are our best asset for what we like to call ‘wicked problems,'” said Wendy Smooth, Ohio State’s senior vice provost for inclusive excellence. “We know that when we do this work and we do it in partnership with communities across the state, we are fulfilling our land-grant mission and our promise as the state’s flagship institution.”

Hancock led a panel discussion on youth suicide prevention with Beverly Vandiver, director of Ohio State’s Quantitative Methodology Center, and Nicole King Cotton, assistant professor at Morehouse School of Medicine.

Schools can serve as support networks for youth by providing activities that boost self-esteem and provide opportunities for positive social interactions, Vandiver said.

“We have to think about who is involved in sports, who is involved in extracurricular activities, and those are very important for socialization,” he said. “Also, what is the social support of family and community? Those are really important.”

Cotton said parents and community members play an important role in preventing negative interactions young people face on social media.

“I’m a parent of two young kids and I’m just in the middle of it. For me, it’s about education,” he said. “How do we change the narrative in social media, in interpersonal conversations? How do we tell them differently what it means to be part of a culture?

For more information about Minority Health Month and to access a list of upcoming events compiled by the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, visit

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