Leah Blackwell, Duluth Public Library

Thank you to the Arrowhead Library System for granting my scholarship to attend the 2017 Minnesota Association of Children’s Mental Health Conference! This was an excellent experience for me, where I was able to learn about more about both the challenges and strategies in providing support to families who deal with a variety of mental health issues. Because I work with children at the Duluth Public library, this conference was especially useful in broadening my understanding of how to better serve our community.

I was able to attend, What is Children’s Mental Health? Considering a New Framework by Cari Michaels, MPH, Extension Children, Youth & Family Consortium, University of Minnesota. In this workshop Cari presented a new and ultimately more positive way of viewing mental health. Moving away from an “us versus them” mentality, where issues of mental illness tend to be stigmatized and feared, Cari encouraged us to look at mental health as we do physical health: something we all have. In this model, an individual can have a diagnosis of mental illness, but still experience good mental health. Likewise, a person with no diagnosis can still experience poor mental health. Cari’s work presents mental health as a continuum that is bound to change over our lifetimes. What I found especially useful in my work with children was Cari’s assertion that the prevention of mental illness is something that we are all involved in, and something that is happening all the time. By modeling mentally healthy behaviors and supporting children and families in positive ways, we can assist in prevention on a daily basis.

One of the keynote presenters at MACMH was Erin Walsh of Mind Positive Parenting. Her talk, It’s Complicated: Children, Social Media, and Mental Health, addressed the myriad of challenges and opportunities for youth that have arisen out of the digital age. Erin’s major theme in this talk can be summed up in one of her opening statements, “Digital technologies are not inherently good or bad, but they are powerful.” She unpacked this idea by showing competing data on both sides of the argument, while reinforcing her thesis: it’s complicated. While the internet and social media can offer systems of support and promote agency for youth, it can also be alienating if there is an absence of real time relationships in the child’s life. Erin encouraged us to engage with youth and coach them in navigating the digital world, where the ultimate goal is that children have control over their devices and online presence instead of the other way around.

Other workshops I attended were Learning and Memory: Identifying and Addressing Memory Problems that Interfere with Learning, Circles of Safety, Awareness to Action: Understanding and Responding to Children’s Sexual Behavior, Native American Historical Trauma and Present Day Impacts, and an unforgettable production of Fidgety Fairy Tales: The Mental Health Musical. This conference truly strengthened my awareness and understanding of mental health and what it means to promote and support mental health in families and children.