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26 January 2023
A child holds in front of their face hands with eyes, one open and one closed, drawn on the back of them

The inaugural conference of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Initiative (CAMHI) welcomed more than 400 attendees to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) Lighthouse in Athens, Greece, on January 25, 2023. The initiative is part of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation’s (SNF) $750 million-plus global Health Initiative, in partnership with providers on the front lines of the Greek public health system and the Child Mind Institute , with support by the Hellenic Ministry of Health.

The conference welcomed participants from a wide range of fields involved in the care of children and young people, including health, education, social welfare, and child protection. The enthusiastic participation of so many across different sectors shines a light on the widespread awareness about the importance of child and adolescent mental health, and the growing desire for meaningful collaboration and building bridges in this area.

The vision, ongoing work, and future direction of the initiative were highlighted by the Regional Coordinators of the CAMHI Network, Dr. Anastasia Koumoula, Prof. Aspasia Serdari, Prof. Konstantinos Kotsis, Prof. Katerina Papanikolaou, Prof. Nikolaos Zilikis, Dr. Lilian Athanasopoulou, and Prof. Maria Basta. Dr. Harold Koplewicz, founding President and Medical Director of CMI, emphasized that “Mental health will be the defining public health crisis for our generation and the next”, while Dr. Koumoula underscored the importance of the program after a poignant account of the history of mental health care over the last decades in Greece.

The first session introduced the CAMHI program to the wider community of child mental health and psychosocial support in Greece, highlighting  key features of the project including the country-wide CAMHI Network and the efforts for the co-creation of basic and advanced trainings on child mental health. The team also  presented the extensive library of free, online short guides with accessible and reliable information about mental health widely available to caregivers, adolescents, educators, and health professionals.  

The second session summarized findings of the CAMHI Landscape Analysis – a recent, nationwide research effort to assess the current status and needs of Greece’s child and adolescent mental health care system, with a focus on the unique needs of local communities. Preliminary results were presented – with insights from caregivers, educators, health professionals, and youth – which revealed key barriers to mental health care for children and adolescents, the need for additional training among educators, enhancement of targeted skills for health providers, and empowerment of professionals working in the public sector.

Session 3 of the conference focused on the Youth Engagement Scheme (YES) of the CAMHI, providing an overview of the program’s conception and stages of implementation. Mr. George Moschos, the coordinator of the YES scheme and former Ombudsman for Children's Rights, along with Vasiliki Vataki, Modestos Gavalas and Nelly Serdari, members of the YES coordinating team in Athens and Thessaloniki, discussed their experience and main takeaways from their cooperation with young people across Greece, as well as the decision for this year’s activities to focus on the theme of stress, as the primary concern brought forward by youth members in the four youth groups. In the words of Mr. Moschos, “Children feel they belong when their voices are heard – let’s not forget that”.

During the final session, representatives from the Institute of Child Health, UNICEF Greece, The Home Project, and SOS Children’s Villages Greece shared the challenges and opportunities encountered at the intersection of child protection and mental health care provision, and their perspectives on how to better support professionals working with children and adolescents in vulnerable situations. Speakers agreed that context is important, while professionals do face many similar challenges, and this can provide opportunities for learning from one another. This was also noted by Kevin Dowling from National Children’s Alliance (NCA), who spoke in the introduction to this session about scaling up training and bringing professionals from different sectors together, in the context of Child Advocacy Centers in the US.

Presenting a global perspective, keynote speaker Prof. Dr. Luis Augusto Pain Rohde, President of the International Association for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professions (IACAPAP), spoke of the widespread prevalence of mental disorders among children and adolescents around the world, emphasized the importance of early intervention, of combating stigma, and of empowering the next generation of leaders in child and adolescent mental health. Dr. Rodhe also reminded attendees of the importance of adapting interventions to the local context, and that “We need to listen to the voices of those with lived experience.

Closing remarks were delivered by Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos who stressed that “It’s all about access-every human being must have access to quality mental health care”.

Watch the whole conference: