Thank you all for coming this evening.
Michelle and Laura, the Depot, the Darien Library, the Genovese family and all those in attendance tonight…. thank you for doing your part in making tonight a reality. Thank you for inviting these panelists, myself, and this conversation about mental health into the heart of your community. Tonight we hope to honor Matthew and his family by engaging a candid and sensitive discussion about mental health. Before starting, I would like to pause and remind you that this discussion may be emotionally charged and may stir up strong feelings. My role in moderating this panel will be to seek a candidly gentle tone as the panel answers your questions however if you feel unwell during or after this meeting, Please seek support from family, clergy, therapists, or emergency services if necessary. If you have follow up questions about what we discuss tonight please feel free to email me via my website which is just my name, Aaron Krasner.
I did not know Mathew… but you all did. You saw him everyday. You may have memories of him. Many of you have supported his family since his tragic passing – and you may really miss him. I am so sorry for your loss. I hope you have been finding ways to support each other now because human emotional contact is such an important part of grieving. Grief is a strange foe – circular, sometimes acutely painful, part friend – that is mostly gnawing patiently in the recesses of our minds. And grief, strangely, is the preferred partner to disengaged despair – its dangerous alter ego. It is by seeking emotional contact with each other – for example here and now – that we invite grief in, knowing we feel better for having allowed it in, and having felt it.
Focusing in: this bit about Feeling painful feelings versus defensively fending them off Lies at the heart of ‘mental health’ and resilience. People who can recognize feelings, link them to events or thoughts, and Accept them, Even when painful, are in possession of at least some ‘mental health’. This sounds good – it may even sound easy – But just think for a second: is it easy to recognize feelings? Do we always know their cause? And can we accept them, Even when these feelings cause pain? How Do children acquire mental health? How do problems with recognizing, linking, And accepting emotions manifest? What is the role of psychotherapy or medication in Promoting mental health? And what about these screens?! Since the release of the iPhone in 2008, increasing Rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance use disorders, and bullying have Increased psychiatric hospitalizations and adverse outcomes among teens. Because we fundamentally do not understand the complexities of the brain, we cannot understand how these screens drive dissociation and disconnection, but they do. Factor in the COVID pandemic, The tragic loss of 1 million Americans to the virus, and the inevitably estranging impact of proper public health care measures And the picture of a youth mental health crisis comes sharply into focus. Lamentably, this crisis hits at a time when private and public funding for mental health initiatives – research and clinical – are at an all time low. De- institutionalization, over-reliance on pharmaceuticals, And avarice have Crippled our limited mental health infrastructure Such that the required resources to address this youth mental health crisis are virtually nonexistent.
How about some good news? We have worked to decrease stigma – The shaming of those who acknowledge problems with their mental health – such that people are more willing to seek and engage help. More good news: over the last 20 years, we have rigorously researched medical, psychosocial, and policy related treatments/interventions for most psychiatric disorders in children teens and adults such that evidence-based treatments for most conditions are readily available. Certainly there are impediments to treatment and some cases are treatment refractory, but our ability to help individuals to identify, process, and ultimately express their feelings effectively using combinations of interventions is better than ever. More good news: when individuals volunteer for treatment and make progress, the benefits accrue to the entire family.
While this moderator role is familiar – The cautiously invited partner in thought – The setting, tragic story, and scope of this problem are a little daunting. It is my hope that together we can open some willingness and motivation to address this youth mental health crisis here in Darien and perhaps beyond.