Children’s mental health conference will focus on psychological first aid

In the wake of the Reynolds High School shooting and the Oso, Washington, landside last spring, the fifth annual Oregon Children’s Mental Health Conference will focus on psychological first aid for children and adolescents.

The conference, sponsored by the Oregon Council of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and the Oregon Pediatric Society, runs Friday, April 10, and Saturday, April 11, at the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel, 8235 N.E. Airport Way.

Dr. Gregory Blaschke, a pediatrician and developmental physician who is president of Oregon Pediatric Society, said the goal of the conference is “preparing people to respond appropriately to crisis” – especially given children’s differing ages and developmental stages – whether that’s community violence, natural disaster or a personal or family crisis.

He said a fellow pediatrician recently commented to him that “frequently it seems like there isn’t a day in our offices when we’re not responding to a crisis.”

A panel discussion will focus on lessons learned from Newtown, Connecticut, where Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012; Reynolds High School in Portland, where 15-year-old Jared Padgett killed 14-year-old Emilio Hoffman and himself in June; and Oso, Washington, where a landslide killed 43 people, including seven children, last March.

The panel will include Robert Pynoos, a psychiatry professor at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute who is a co-director of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network at UCLA. Another scheduled panelist is Melissa Brymer, director of the terrorism and disaster programs at the UCLA/Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, who has worked not only with people in Newtown but also with survivors of Hurricane Katrina, said Dr. Kathryn Flegel, president of the Oregon Council of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Flegel said parents and educators are welcome to attend the conference, as is anyone else interested in the effects of stress and trauma on children.

The conference will also include a session titled “Emerging Science of Child Traumatic Stress,” which Flegel said will focus on the cumulative effects of trauma.

“We often see kids in the clinic … and we think, oh, their first trauma is they got bullied, but in fact there was (previously) a motor vehicle accident or a death in the family or their house burned down,” Flegel said. Undergoing several such experiences can alter brain development and increase the likelihood that a child will eventually develop depression or anxiety, she said, so it’s important to treat kids early for both immediate and cumulative trauma.

Also on the conference agenda is a discussion of the Oregon Psychiatric Access Line about Kids, or OPAL-K, which Flegel described as a free resource for any primary care provider in the state with a mental health question. The phone line, based at Oregon Health & Science University, is staffed from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays by a rotation of about eight child psychiatrists who field questions such as the one Flegel got this week, from a pediatrician with a 13-year-old patient whose parents thought she should be on medication for depression.

Conference-goers will also hear from Trauma Informed Oregon, a year-old statewide collaborative that is working to bring together organizations that have experience treating kids who have been through trauma, such as Oregon Family Support Network and NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Oregon.

The conference is accepting online registrations now; walk-in registrations also will be accepted. Registration fees begin at $150 for students, educators, first responders and others; professionals can earn 13.5 continuing education credits.