Baton Rouge – The Louisiana Department of Health (DHH) has established a strong commitment to improving the mental health of the people of Louisiana, and children are no exception. Statistics outline the challenge that policy makers, educators, parents, community leaders and advocates face: suicide is the third most common cause of death in young people, both nationally and in Louisiana.  Ninety percent of teenagers who die by suicide have a mental health problem, usually depression, substance abuse or both. An estimated 3,500 adolescents attempt suicide every day. 

During the week of May 4-10, 2008, the Department of Health and Hospitals-Office of Mental Health (OMH) and its partners are working to combat these statistics by sponsoring Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week 2008.  Activities are planned across the state to raise awareness and advocacy, including  distributing children’s mental health information to schools, libraries, churches, health care facilities and juvenile detention centers.  (Click here for a comprehensive list of activities going on throughout the week.)

 “Improving the health – both medical and mental – of Louisiana’s children is one of my top priorities,” said Alan Levine, LDH secretary. “Children’s Mental Health Awareness week is all about shining a spotlight on mental health issues young people face and collaborating to develop best-practice strategies to help our state’s youth.” 

The highlight of the week is the first annual children’s mental health summit on Friday, May 9. 

Themed “Children in Crisis:  Promising Strategies, Promising Solutions,” the one-day event is open to anyone interested in working to improve the quality of life for children with mental illness.

The summit will include educational sessions on child traumatic stress, psychiatric first aid and the latest prevention research and policy updates.  Also featured will be discussions with nationwide leaders in the field of children’s mental health. 

According to Jennifer Kopke, assistant secretary for OMH, “The experts we have invited are impressive in regard to the work they’ve done in the field of children’s mental health.  I know their expertise as well as the topics we have prepared will be informative for everyone attending.”

The speakers include Dr. Rahn Kennedy Bailey, Meharry Medical College; Dr. Melissa Brymer, National Child Traumatic Stress Network; Dr. Michael Scheeringa, Tulane School of Medicine; and Dr. Joy Osofsky, LSU Health Sciences Center. 

Also scheduled to speak at the summit is LDH Secretary Alan Levine.  According to Levine, the state has more youth in crisis because of the storms of 2005.

The sponsor for the summit is the Louisiana Partnership for Youth Suicide Prevention.  The partnership is funded through a federal grant awarded the LDH Office of Mental Health to reduce suicidal behavior in Louisiana.  The Partnership was originally known as the Louisiana Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force when it began in 2000 in DHH’s Office of Public Health – Adolescent Health Initiative.  The Partnership formed as other groups collaborated with LDH on the effort. 

Other supporters for the summit include Mental Health of America, Early Childhood Support Services, Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, Baton Rouge Crisis Intervention Center, Louisiana Youth Enhanced Services, Louisiana Spirit, Children Adolescents Response Team, Office of Youth Development and the Office of Public Health.

For any questions, please contact Trina Evans Williams at (225)342-9457, (504)568-3032 or by e-mailtevans@dhh.la.gov . 

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