Friday marked the 3rd anniversary of the PPAL Conference and this year it was a celebration. More than 500 of us got together to celebrate the work we do, whether as youth or parents or professionals with our own experiences of the system from the inside. I can report that I came away completely invigorated and I can’t wait for next year.
There is power in a room full of people pulling in the same direction. When I was growing up, we hid mental health needs as much as we could. There were after school specials about cutting and teen pregnancy and health classes to tell us not to drink or smoke, but the real support for kids in crisis was pretty thin. This conference room full of people today, all there to talk about children’s mental health and family support, represents a huge change.
We go through life being told the limits of every situation, but the unofficial theme of today could have been, “Know that you are not limited as you think.” The featured presenter, Marvin Alexander, President of the Board of Directors of Youth M.O.V.E. National, shared his story of being hospitalized for the first time at seven years old. While that sounded like an inauspicious start, he stood in front of us as a mental health professional explaining the details of how youth can and should be included in their own processes. He overcame his difficult start and inspires others to do the same. In short, he made it!The keynote speaker, Fletcher Wortmann, was equally inspirational, but his style was completely different. He walked us through his battle with crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder and was emotional about admitting that he still battles. The fact that he went through a lot of treatment and still went on to graduate from Swarthmore College gives me ammunition for the families I work with who are afraid that their children will never get to college because of the mental health support they get. This young man lives with a mental illness, and is choosing to live his best life anyway.
Youth were well-represented this year. I don’t remember being as conscious of Youth M.O.V.E. at last year’s conference. Good stuff. I was reminded of one of those inspirational posters you used to see everywhere. “Don’t walk in front of me. I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me. I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” We were reminded that we need to walk beside youth, when it comes to their mental health care.
Grace H. Scott is a Family Partner with Riverside Community Care. Growing up, she helped hide her mother’s mental illness. Now a mother of three herself, including one child with a complicated duel diagnosis, she does what she can to challenge the secrecy and stigma associated with mental health needs. In that vain, she wants it known that she has Chronic Anxiety Disorder herself and has experienced depression intermittently.