Resilience in Children: Teaching the Building Blocks of Mental Health

On Wednesday, September 27, the Hope for Depression Research Foundation (HDRF) held its Second Annual Next Generation Mental Health Symposium in Palm Beach. Palm Beach Day Academy (PBDA) opened its doors to the community for a special panel on “Resilience in Children: Teaching the Building Blocks of Mental Health”.

The hour-long symposium started at 9 AM with opening remarks by HDRF Board member Scott Snyder. Then, HDRF Executive Director Louisa Benton moderated a rich discussion which featured top experts in psychiatry, brain research, and social work.  Each panelist gave vital insights into how parents, teachers, and professionals can support young people to promote their mental health.

HDRF Executive Director Louisa Benton said: “We are in a pivotal moment in the national conversation on child and adolescent mental health.   Founded in 2006, HDRF has a long track record in brain research and educating the public about depression.  We are in a prime position to lead the conversation on how we can come together in support of our children’s mental health.”

Open to the public and free of charge, the event packed the PBDA main auditorium with high school students, parents, guidance counselors, mental health professionals, and administrators from both public and private schools in the area.  The panel concluded with a lively Q&A from the audience, followed by a coffee reception.

One of the featured panelists, acclaimed psychologist and author Dr. Jean Twenge, signed her New York Times best-selling book, iGen, during the coffee reception.  HDRF gave the book to all attendees in a special gift bag that was bright yellow, HDRF’s signature color.

The five panelists were:

  • Kafui Dzirasa, MD, PhD: Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University.
  • Marianne E. Chai, MD: Clinical Instructor at the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Grossman School of Child Medicine.
  • Dr. Jean Twenge, PhD: Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University and best-selling author.
  • Mike Giresi, CTP, NMP:  Chief Clinical Officer at Family First Adolescent Services.
  • Camilla Knoke and Isabella Tibbs from Active Minds Chapter at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

In addition to the public symposium at 9 am, the panelists also spoke during a private session with PBDA 6th, 7th, and 8th graders and their teachers from 8 to 8:30 am.

“We are here because we care about you,” Dr. Kafui Dzirasa said to the 120 students gathered for this in-school session.  “The statistics are on the screen, but this conversation is not about graphs.  This is about you and how to build life-long habits that will serve you throughout life.”

Some other key takeaways shared by the panelists included:

  • Resilience is a skill that can be learned.
  • The brain is an organ that learns from repetition. Being intentional about thinking positive thoughts can lead to more positive thinking as a habit.
  • Sleep is a washing machine for the brain.
  • Curiosity is the antidote to shame: when we pause to be curious and gently ask questions, we can help diffuse our knee-jerk reactions when our children act out.
  • Social media expert Dr. Jean Twenge recommends limiting teens’ access to social media until the age of 16. (Currently, the minimum age to have a Facebook account is 13).

The Annual Next Generation Mental Health Symposium was launched in Palm Beach by HDRF in October 2022.   It is an outgrowth of HDRF’s goal to deepen understanding about depression, share new insights about the developing brain, and reduce stigma associated with getting help.

This year’s Second Annual Next Generation Mental Health Symposium was generously sponsored by Findlay Galleries with additional help from Palm Beach Day Academy, Family First Adolescent Services, Restoring Hope of the Palm Beaches, and the Active Minds Chapter at Palm Beach Atlantic University.


Facts About Teen Mental Health:

The state of the nation’s youth’s mental health is at a critical point. Last fall, the Surgeon General declared an emergency in youth mental health. Even before the pandemic, rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts were on the rise among adolescents.

Recent statistics show that:

  • More than one in three high school students has experienced sadness or hopelessness, a 40% increase since 2009
  • Every day, almost 4,000 children and teens attempt suicide
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for teens ages 15 to 19


About the Panelists:

  • Louisa Benton, Executive Director for HDRF, moderated the discussion. As HDRF Executive Director, Louisa works closely with HDRF’s team of scientists, the Depression Task Force, to put complex science into simple language for the general public. She focuses on building mental health awareness programs and events around the country. She has a dual degree in History and Science from Harvard University and a Masters in journalism and International Affairs from Columbia. She has written for the Miami Herald, St. Petersburg Times, and the New York Times. She moderated the panel alongside the following panelists of experts:
  • Kafui Dzirasa, MD, PhD: Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University. He studies how stress and other environmental factors affect the brain through genetic and electrochemical mechanisms, which have led to important insights into cognitive and emotional function and depressive disorders. Dr. Dzirasa was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2016.
  • Marianne E. Chai, MD: A triple board-certified psychiatrist trained in adult, child and  adolescent and addiction psychiatry. She is on faculty at the NYU Child Study Center, where she teaches psychiatry trainees and an undergraduate course on complementary and alternative medicine. She serves on the NYU Medical School Admission Committee and is the Medical Director for a private nonprofit substance treatment program for adolescent and young adults. Dr. Chai is an international consultant for mental health prevention and early intervention  program development. She maintains a private practice and works with Mind Body Seven.
  • Jean Twenge, PhD: Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University and author of more than 180 scientific publications and of books including Personality Psychology: Understanding Yourself and Others, Generations: The Real Differences Between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers, and Silents, and iGen, in which she shares a close-up look at the effects of technology on today’s teens and young adults.
  • Mike Giresi, CTP, NMP: Chief Clinical Officer at Family First Adolescent Services, a premier residential treatment center in South Florida, where he utilizes his extensive training and experience in the field of trauma, somatic psychology, interpersonal neurobiology, and addiction treatment to inform the creation of individual, group, and family programming for clients and their loved ones. He is also a NeuroAffective Relational Model Practitioner.
  • Camila Knoke and Isabella Tibbs from Active Minds Chapter at Palm Beach Atlantic University: Active Minds is the nation’s premier nonprofit organization supporting mental health awareness and education for young adults, ages 14-25. Now in more than 1,000 campuses and communities, Active Minds has a student-led chapter at Palm Beach Atlantic University. This club supports the mental health of its student body campus through events and activities.

HDRF is set to host their 17th Annual HOPE Luncheon Seminar on the topic of Resilience: Emerging Stronger From Life’s Greatest Challenges on Tuesday, November 14th at The Plaza Hotel in New York. This will be followed by the foundation’s signature Palm Beach event, the Sixth annual 5K Race of Hope to Defeat Depression on Saturday, February 17, 2024. The event attracts hundreds of runners and walkers throughout South Florida to raise crucial funds for mental health research. For more information on HDRF’s upcoming events, visit https://www.hopefordepression.org/events.

To watch news coverage of the event, click here.

Photos by Capehart Photography.