Brain-Health-Summit, Center for BrainHealth in Dallas ‘The trauma you don’t transform, you transmit’
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‘The trauma you don’t transform, you transmit’

Early intervention is key to promoting brain health and avoiding the criminal justice system, Institute’s Yolanda Lewis tells Brain³ Summit

Brain Health Summit Yolanda Lewis Speaking Panel
Yolanda Lewis addresses the Brain³ Summit held Feb. 21-22 at the Center for BrainHealth in Dallas

There was a lot of futuristic technology on display during the Brain³ Summit held Feb. 21-22 at the Center for BrainHealth in Dallas, including headphones for the relief of opioid withdrawal symptoms and an immersive virtual reality headset used for digital therapy.

But during a panel discussion titled “Instilling a Growth Mindset – in Individuals and Communities,” Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute Executive Vice President for Justice and Health Yolanda Lewis said that “human interaction is still the greatest force multiplier for brain health.”

When creating systems change, “don’t forget the human element,” Lewis told the diverse crowd of neuroscientists, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, corporate executives, advocates, government leaders and military personnel in attendance.

During the panel, moderated by Milan Sevak, executive director of the University of North Texas at Dallas Center for Socioeconomic Mobility Through Education, Lewis described two key initiatives though which the Meadows Institute is working to transform systems so that people with behavioral health challenges are identified earlier and have increased access to effective treatment, keeping them healthy and out of the criminal justice system.

The Meadows Institute’s Person-Centered Triage Approach is “revolutionizing” mental health crisis response in 911 centers by using evidence-based questions to better gauge a caller’s propensity for violence and self-harm and asking callers for direct input about their preferred outcome, Lewis said.

In doing so, PCTA recognizes the humanity of individuals experiencing a behavioral health crisis and helps restore relationships between first responders and local communities, Lewis said.

“There are communities that have never had a voice in what happens on the other end of those calls. We can deescalate a crisis if we have the courage to ask the right questions.”

After all, Lewis stressed, “a crisis is not a crime.”

The reality, however, is that many people do not receive a diagnosis or treatment for a behavioral health condition until they reach the point of crisis and are caught up in the criminal justice system, said Lewis, a former trial court administrator. She called that a “sickening failure.”

Far from promoting brain health, jails and prisons are “multipliers of vulnerabilities,” Lewis said, especially for trauma and grief, which are only magnified by engagement with the criminal justice system.

Panelist Michael Phillips, chief operating officer of Dallas-based social impact venture studio TDJ Enterprises, agreed. A former prison inmate facing a 30-year sentence, Phillips said “the trauma you don’t transform, you transmit.”

In partnership with the University of North Texas at Dallas, the Meadows Institute is working on interventions to identify and prevent the transmission of intergenerational trauma due to criminal justice involvement, Lewis said.

Studies show that four in 10 children in America grow up with a parent who has spent time in prison, has been convicted of a felony or is facing a criminal charge.

When a parent is removed from the home, that is considered an “ambiguous loss,” tantamount to a death in the family, Lewis explained. Yet few schools or other institutions ever ask a child about the impact of parental incarceration.

Starting with a test site in Dallas, Lewis announced that the Meadows Institute will implement a theory of change that works to identify such at-risk children and connect them to effective community-based services that promote well-being and resiliency.

“We are going to say to kids, ‘you don’t have to be in trouble to get help. We are going to wrap services around you and help you.’”

Added Lewis: “Systems have to respond differently, because they can.”

Brain Health Summit Yolanda Lewis Speaking Panel
Michael Phillips, chief operating officer of TDJ Enterprises, and Meadows Institute Executive Vice President for Justice and Health Yolanda Lewis