AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – UMass Amherst hosted the latest Massachusetts Health Policy Forum Wednesday discussing the realities of youth mental health.

The Heart of UMass’ flagship campus had the state’s premiere authorities on public health dedicated to solving a growing problem among the state’s future leaders.

“The mission of the health policy forum is to improve health and the healthcare system in Massachusetts. Mental health is a crisis in the state, it’s a crisis for youth,” said Michael Doonan, the Executive Director of Massachusetts Health Policy Forum.

A major motivator for hosting this summit on campus was the recent release of a local mental health survey. Separate surveys of youth in western Massachusetts and statewide had similar findings. Nearly half of young people felt so sad or hopeless on a day-to-day basis that they stopped doing usual activities like hobbies or socializing. That loss of connection early in life has proven to have long-lasting effects.

“They have increased rates of anxiety, increased loneliness, and not really knowing how to get engaged,” Anna Maria Siega-Riz, UMass Dean of the School of Public Health and Health Sciences.

“Our relationships, connections, soccer practice, choir practice, school whatever that may be really impacted people’s overall well-being,” Kathy Mague, Senior Vice President of Behavioral Health Network.

The climax of Wednesday’s forum was the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts’ roadmap to reconnect with our youth.

According to the combined research from all of the forum’s stakeholders work to improve youth mental health must begin with social connection and emotional skill building followed by a better understanding of social media and the de-stigmatizing and normalizing of mental health struggles all supported by strong community-clinical relationships.

The best place to start individually you’ve heard before, reducing screen time.

Local News

Duncan MacLean is a reporter who has been a part of the 22News team since 2019. Follow Duncan on X @DMacLeanWWLP and view his bio to see more of his work.