Nobel Conference at Gustavus focuses on mental health inequity for young people


Lisa Heldke, Gustavus Adolphus College’s colleague, has been discussing how to tackle mental health inequity among young people for years before anyone started commenting about the timing of this year’s Nobel Conference.

span style=”font weight: 400 Everyone is giving us credit for being at the forefront of this trend right now but when we started discussing it, we didn’t know how timely this topic would be,” explained Heldke, a philosophy professor who is also the conference’s director. The conference “Mental Health Inequity and Young People” will be held Wednesday and Thursday on the St. Peter campus and online via Zoom.

She explained that the discussion about this topic as a conference theme started in 2016 or 2017, with an emphasis on autism spectrum disorder. However, by 2019, it had evolved to a focus of mental health challenges for young adults.

She said that a pandemic was not necessary for the topic to be relevant.

The Nobel Conference organizers always sought to invite carefully chosen speakers to speak on campus to share their research. Heldke stated that this year’s line-up includes scientists and academics who view their work and the world around them through a different lens than mainstream thinking.

Lisa Heldke

She said that organizers wanted to place a strong emphasis on trauma, identity and technology. “They wanted presenters who could speak to the many facets of young people’s identity. They were searching for speakers who can address a particular struggle in this moment of race, ethnicity color, gender, and sexuality. They were very keen to find speakers who could speak on this topic.

Heldke is a Gustie (she graduated from Gustie in 1982) and recalls spending hours at Nobel Conference every year as a student.

span style=”font weight: 400 I was one of those geeky students who attended every lecture.” “This was back in the days when speakers could lecture for up to an hour without visual aids. This was before TED Talks. Scientists used to lecture to the public, but they didn’t know that science was something people needed to understand.

Heldke stated that the conference was originally intended to be focused on science and ethical implications. She hopes to help shape it so that it appeals to a wider audience. The conference ended with a philosopher or a theologian, who placed the presentations in the context of the others. This was a tradition that has been going on for many years. This tradition has changed under Heldke’s leadership.

span style=”font weight: 400 ;”>” When I took over the helm, it was to ensure that there wasn’t one philosopher at the end.” she stated. We invite all speakers to discuss the intersection of science and ethics. It’s not as if scientists do their science and then philosophers or theologians come in and say, “This is how we think about it.”

Heldke stated that this change helps the event to “live out in an even more full-throated manner, as it was chartered to.” Science and ethics can always be challenging, sometimes intimidating, goingading, and sometimes agitating one another. This should be at the heart of the conference, I believe.”

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Heldke stated that this year’s speakers are a mix of different scholarship and approaches to understanding young people’s mental illness. They have been widely published, are highly regarded and are experts in their respective fields.

Heldke stated that student involvement is just as important as, if not more, than her time at the college.

span style=”font weight: 400 Every year, we invite students to be the hosts of the speakers. They can spend a few days with them. We typically have half the number of applicants than spots. She said that this year, however, we had to reject more applicants than we could accept. She added that the campus community seemed particularly excited about this event: “Word-of-mouth among the students is, ‘Oh yeah. I’m going.'”

Manuela Barreto is a psychologist at Exeter and the head of the Psychology Department. She is also co-investigator of The Loneliness Experiment. This experiment was a collaboration between BBC, Wellcome Collection, and researchers from three British universities. It examined the rise in loneliness around the globe and the causes. She is one the seven conference presenters this year.

Barreto stated that people assume older people are most lonely when they hear about her research. This is false.

Manuela Barreto

Barreto stated that the notion that loneliness is something you get with age is wrong. “Culturally speaking, people who are most lonely are young people,” she explained. She also shared the findings of other academics, explaining that “people between 16 and 35 are more lonely than all age groups.”

Barreto stated that she is annoyed by the social psychology literature that emphasizes individual deficiencies as a cause of loneliness. “Too many studies suggest that loneliness can be caused by a lack or desire to socialize. We can understand the root causes behind loneliness by looking at many other factors.

Barreto stated that she would confront the growing loneliness rates among young people using a perspective that challenges established belief systems.

She asked, “What structural causes are more common of loneliness?” What is preventing people from making meaningful social connections and pushing them aside? My focus as a social psychologist is on the environment that causes loneliness or mental illness. These aspects are often overlooked, but they are still very important.

She said that loneliness is a problem in communities, not individuals. Many young people feel lonely because they are part of marginalized communities that have been pushed to society’s edges. She said, “That’s why I gave my talk the tongue-in cheek title, ‘It takes a village to make someone lonely’.” “Because villages and communities are often defined by lines that separate those who are included from those who are excluded or excluded. I believe that loneliness is a social justice problem.

Additional presenters include

  • Meryl Alper (associate professor of communication studies at Northeastern University): “Supporting mental health among autistic youth in the digital age”
  • Professor, Health Policy and Management, Fielding School of Public Health UCLA: “Investing In Youth Mental Health at A Population Scale”
  • Joseph P. Go ,faculty Director, Native American Program, Harvard University: “Anticolonial approaches to community mental health services for American Indians: Enacting AlterNative Psy­ence”
  • Priscilla Li, associate psychologist, Southern Methodist University – “Scientific understanding of Racism & Discrimination Experiences : A Path Toward Mental Health Equity
  • G. Nic Rider, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health: “Radical healing and inclusive change-making: Centering transgender and gender diverse communities”
  • Brendesha Tynes is the Dean’s Professor of Education Equity at the University of Southern California-Rossier School of Education. She is also a professor of psychology and education at the University of Southern California.

Although tickets are still available for the conference at Gustavus’ St. Peter campus in person, Heldke advised that people order tickets in advance. Virtual attendance is available for free. All presentations will be recorded, and archived.

Heldke said that the archive option significantly expands speakers’ reach. This is something she believes is especially important for this topic.

span style=”font weight: 400 ;”>” If you are a high-school teacher, you can use it in your class almost immediately. She said that we also have resources for high school teachers who wish to incorporate the talks in their lesson plans. “This topic is particularly important for young people and we want them all to have access to it.”

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