As part of its work to lead the way in transforming youth and young adult mental health across the country, Embark Behavioral Health is fostering open dialogue on critical topics in the communities it serves. That effort includes Coffee and Conversations, a monthly event at the Embark outpatient clinic in Atlanta, Georgia, where local mental health professionals learn about and discuss issues often shrouded in stigma.
The initiative was created by Dr. Sharnell Myles, an Embark vice president who oversees the company’s Georgia, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., outpatient clinics and who has a doctorate in psychology, with the support of the Atlanta directors of professional relations, Brianna King and Phillip Bailey. Her vision for Coffee and Conversations came from a desire to end the stigma around mental illness. It’s an important effort given the youth mental health crisis in the United States.
Launched in December 2022, the event takes place every third Wednesday of the month. It’s quickly become a unique opportunity for dialogue, education, and connection — one Myles sees continuing indefinitely.
“We want to keep it going,” she said. “As long as we have this youth mental health crisis going on, we have to engage in these conversations.”
Coffee and Conversations Overview
Coffee and Conversations are structured yet open events, each dedicated to a specific topic in the mental health space. The meetings have attracted over 100 mental health professionals from various backgrounds, including therapists, CEOs, business development representatives, and educational consultants, who connect families with treatment programs. Once gathered, these attendees share insights and experiences, advancing a collective understanding of the challenges facing young people and how to best provide quality treatment to populations that are oftentimes overlooked or shut out.
Myles designs each event to offer fresh perspectives. Topics have included:
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills, which aim to change negative thought patterns.
- Domestic minor sex trafficking and how to support trafficked youths in intensive outpatient and therapeutic day treatment programs (also known as partial hospitalization programs, or PHPs).
- Gaps in mental health treatment for areas such as the complex intersection of eating disorders with other factors, such as race and gender identity.
Each event features guest speakers who bring unique expertise to the table, such as:
- Atlanta Police Department Lt. Kevin Walls. Walls discussed law enforcement’s role in mental health crises.
- Dr. Amanda Nicholson, clinical director of Embark’s Atlanta and Alpharetta, Georgia, outpatient clinics, who has a doctorate in philosophy in human sexuality studies, and Bailey. The two shared their personal experiences with eating disorders.
Impact on Mental Health Professionals
Coffee and Conversations is having a powerful and growing influence on Atlanta area mental health professionals. The knowledge shared during the events has improved their ability to identify families in need and the services that could benefit them. As a result, Embark is helping to close the mental health treatment gap in the area.
One regular attendee, David Cumberlander, a business development representative from Lakeview Behavioral Health in Atlanta, said he’s gained insights into topics such as eating disorders, realizing they can affect any adolescent and require family and community support.
“As educators, adults, and parents, we must be as nurturing and understanding as possible to our clients and loved ones who might need assistance with this issue,” he said.
Impact on Mental Health Treatment
The knowledge shared at Coffee and Conversations is meant to transform practices and perceptions within the Atlanta area health care community, ultimately benefiting the young people and families they serve.
For example, understanding that eating disorders can affect any adolescent could reshape how health care providers approach this critical issue.
Coffee and Conversations has also amplified awareness around lesser-discussed mental health topics, which allows attendees to carry these conversations into their respective spheres, further spreading understanding and empathy as part of the treatment approach.
Coffee and Conversations: The Big Picture
By uniting diverse professionals in an open dialogue about pressing mental health issues, Embark Behavioral Health is breaking down stigma and expanding understanding. Each gathering leaves attendees better equipped to serve their communities and help those in need.
“These monthly events are not just about generating conversations but about making the right conversations happen in a safe and supportive environment,” Myles said.
They’re part of a larger movement to change perspectives, improve access to mental health resources, and foster a community that understands and supports mental well-being.
Coffee and Conversations is also helping Embark at the business level by attracting employment candidates for its Atlanta area outpatient clinics.
“We’ve had several regular attendees apply for an array of positions and experience our topgrading process,” Myles said, referring to a hiring process designed to identify employees who can propel an organization to reach its fullest potential. “It’s exciting that people we connect with at Coffee and Conversations could become Embark team members who help us end mental illness stigma and fulfill our core purpose to create joy and heal generations.”
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