The 2017 Children’s Mental Health Summit drew the largest attendance in the event’s history with more than 350 people in attendance. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant opened the general session discussing the state of mental health in Mississippi and the progress made in the child welfare system.
Lisa Fuller, a mother to two young daughters with special needs including Autism Spectrum Disorder and extreme mental health challenges, shared her story as a mother fighting to gain quality care for her children. Lisa’s oldest daughter, Catherine, was part of the CARES School Jackson autism program. She also shared the struggles of a young girl from a treatment facility in Georgia that her daughter Camille knew. The 14-year-old committed suicide after leaving the camp because her family could not afford to continue treatment. Lisa’s message concluded with, “I believe we should do more to make quality care available to everyone. Not just people like me who are fortunate enough to have insurance and a pretty good job. I believe if she had had access to the care she needed, she would still be here today.”
Amelia Franck Meyer, the keynote speaker, spoke on the human impact of trauma, particularly on young, impressionable and vulnerable children. One of the biggest takeaways from the room was how children “do” trauma, instead of “talk” trauma, i.e. that many of the undesirable behaviors children exhibit are natural survival responses to traumatic events. Meyer noted it is the jobs of caregivers to recognize this type of trauma and work to find ways we can allow the child to be comfortable rather than approaching them with rigid and aggressive structure. She stressed that allowing a child to feel safe is the first step towards healing a child who has experienced trauma.
Dr. Tami Brooks with the Mississippi Division of Medicaid spoke on mental and physical healthcare being a singularity and the need for it to be treated as such. Her focus was on the need for children’s annual wellness visits to be comprehensive in not only include screening for common physical ailments but also mental health screenings. She urged providers to learn more about mental health challenges, treatments and screenings to better serve their patients.
Meyer closed the afternoon with workshops detailing how to work with children who have experienced trauma and mental health challenges and how to also take care of yourself in the face of vicarious trauma. These workshops allowed participants to ask questions and work in teams to discover ways to better serve clients and also take care of ourselves and our staff.