Debra Wentz, left, with Tricia, Katelyn, and Kurt Baker of AIR and their dog, Miki.

With continuing fraught discussions among parents, educators, and politicians about the pros and cons of fully reopening school, continuing with virtual instruction, or using a hybrid model, the physical health a students, teachers, and other school employees has been a primary focus. But it’s equally important not to overlook the impacts on mental health of a prolonged disruption to standard educational practices.

To discuss and address the implications of the ongoing pandemic on youth mental health, Attitudes in Reverse (AIR) — a West Windsor-based nonprofit that provides mental health awareness and suicide prevention programs — has partnered with the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies (NJAMHAA) for its eighth annual Suicide Prevention Conference.

The virtual gathering, titled “Packing a Toolkit for the New Norm,” takes place Monday through Friday, August 17 through 21, from 10 to 11 a.m. daily via Zoom. Cost: $25. Register via EventBrite. For more information visit www.air.ngo or www.njamhaa.org.

Each day’s session will begin with introductory remarks by Debra Wentz, president and CEO of NJAMHAA, and Tricia and Kurt Baker, co-founders of AIR. The Bakers founded AIR in response to the discrimination and stigma surrounding mental illness they experienced following their son, Kenny’s, diagnosis with depression at age 15 and his suicide at age 19, in 2009.

Introductions will be followed by presentations from area experts in various aspects of education and mental health. The schedule runs as follows.

Monday, August 17: “Initiatives in Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic from a Mental Health Perspective” with Craig Kramer, mental health ambassador and chair, Global Campaign for Mental Health, Neuroscience External Affairs, Janssen R&D.

Tuesday, August 18: “How New Jersey Schools Are Preparing for Reopening and Supporting Students” with David Aderhold, superintendent of the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District, and Jennifer Walters, elementary and middle school counselor, Princeton Public Schools.

Wednesday, August 19: “Strategies for Helping Youth Cope with the Mental Health Impact of COVID-19 and Adjust to the New School Year” with Jane Todey, a private consultant and former research program manager at the Partnerships in Prevention Science Institute at Iowa State University.

Thursday, August 20: “Proactive Approach to Suicide Prevention: Foundational Focus on Functional Emotional Development” with Jeff Guenzel, CEO of the Inter-disciplinary Council on Development and Learning.

Friday, August 21: “Inspiring Stories of Overcoming Mental Health Challenges During the Pandemic and Overall” with Carrie Genzel, AIR Advisory Board member and actress, and Peter Lee Kramer, mental health advocate.

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