Virtual Community Forum


The State of Our Children’s Mental Health

The State of Our Children’s Mental Health

In recent years, we’ve seen significant increases in certain mental health disorders in children and youth, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. The COVID-19 pandemic era introduced a new set of challenges for children and youth in the US, but children and teens have been struggling for far longer. According to the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, feelings of persistent sadness, hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors increased by about 40% among young people over the last 10 years leading up to the pandemic.


On Wednesday, May 24th at noon, Integral Care and NAMI Central Texas invite you to join us for a virtual Community Forum, “The State of Children’s Mental Health. Clinicians and parents with lived experience will discuss the following topics:

  • Factors that are negatively impacting children and youth the mental health
  • Signs parents can watch for
  • How to start the conversation around mental health
  • Resources available for parents and caregivers

Our expert panelists include:

  • Nidia Chairez Heston, LMSW, Certified Family Partner
  • Dr. Suzanne C. Hart, Lead Psychologist, Austin Child Guidance Center
  • Derrick Lewis, LPC-A, Program Manager – Child and Family Services Outpatient Clinics, Integral Care


  • Melody Palmer-Arizola, LPC-S, Practice Administrator – Child and Family Services at Integral Care, will moderate the panel.

Audience members can submit questions in advance of the forum as well as ask questions directly to our panelists at the end of the discussion. Learn more about our panelists and moderator below.

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Wednesday, May 24
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM CST


Nidia Chairez Heston, LMSW, Certified Family Partner

Nidia and her husband are parents to a young adult who lives with Autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder and PTSDFor over twenty-five years, Nidia has worked with families navigating child serving systems including education, mental health, intellectual/developmental, juvenile justice, and medical communities. Her passion is supporting these families while supporting and building their internal resiliency. Born and raised in Austin, her self-care includes enjoying nature, new recipes, and old television shows. 

Dr. Suzanne Hart, Lead Psychologist, Austin Child Guidance Center

Dr. Suzanne C. Hart is currently the Lead Psychologist for the Austin Child Guidance Center. She supervises post-docs and educational diagnosticians for the non-profit which specializes in treating underserved children and adolescent communities. This year will mark 16 years of licensure which has gone by pretty quickly. She has previously worked in private practice but switched to a public facing role after the pandemic. Dr. Hart is very interested in mentoring and training early career clinicians. Her goal is to help other clinicians thrive during challenging times and realize that support is available and accessible from other professionals. 

Derrick Lewis, LPC-A, Program Manager – Child and Family Services Outpatient Clinics, Integral Care

Derrick Lewis is an LPC-A and a Program Manager for Integral Care’s Child and Family Services – Outpatient Clinics division. He currently manages two of three total outpatient clinics Integral Care has in the Austin – Travis County area. Lewis graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology in December 2014 and graduated from Lamar University with a master’s degree in clinical Mental Health Counseling in December 2020. Lewis began working in the mental health field in 2015 when he was hired as a Rehabilitation Specialist for a private clinic in El Paso, TX, which served low-income children and their families in the community. He also provided case management services for that clinic before moving to Austin in October 2016, when he initially began working for Integral Care. Lewis started as a Case Manager for the Child and Family Services Outpatient Clinics division before moving to a therapist position. In his time working with Integral Care, he has also worked in a position with Integral Care’s OPTUM Health Home program, which provided case management services to adults with mental health diagnoses comorbidly diagnosed with a chronic medical illness, substance use disorders, and/or a history of homelessness. Lewis also worked as a therapist for Integral Care at Del Valle Middle School, before coming back to Outpatient Clinics as a Team Lead and subsequently a Program Manager. His passion lies in mental health care in general, but specifically in youth mental health. He believes our kids are the future, and if we can set them on the right path, it will lead them to create a positive future for themselves and their communities.


Melody Palmer-Arizola, LPC-S, Practice Administrator – Child and Family Services, Integral Care

Melody Palmer-Arizola, M.Ed., LPC-S, earned her master’s degree in Guidance and Counseling from Southwest Texas State University and has been working in the mental health field for more than 30 years. She started her career at Integral Care as a case manager with adults with serious mental illness before transferring to the Child and Family Services Division. Within the Child and Family Division, she has worked as a therapist, Program Manager and now as the Practice Administrator of Specialty Programs. She is the Chair of the Austin Travis County Suicide Prevention Coalition, is a member of the Mayor’s Challenge Team to prevent suicide among service members, veterans, and their families as well as a member of the Travis County Child Fatality Review team. She is a Counseling on Access to Lethal Means (CALM ) trainer and has trained hundreds of individuals in various settings. Melody also maintains a private practice where she focuses on children involved with CPS, trauma, and adoption.

Integral Care supports adults and children living with mental illness, substance use disorder and intellectual and developmental disabilities in Travis County. Integral Care’s services include a 24-hour helpline for anyone who needs immediate support, ongoing counseling to improve mental health, drug and alcohol treatment to help with recovery, and housing to regain health and independence. Integral Care helps provide a solid foundation for well-being. Founded in 1967, Integral Care is Travis County’s Local Mental Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disability Authority.