This statement from my AAKOMA Project communications team expresses our core beliefs. Research at AAKOMA is firmly grounded in the idea that ALL youth deserve the opportunity to achieve #optimalmentalhealth. Related to this, I often wonder if the cost of our failing to act on the mental health needs of Black youth and youth of color is losing a generation of healthy, thriving minds? Can we afford to allow our children to grow up in a society that limits or devalues their potential? While we may not consider ourselves active participants in devaluing our youth, if we do not work toward uplifting and supporting our children from the inside out, we inadvertently hinder their ability to prosper. How do we do this? We do this by failing to name and recognize the disparities facing (and often crushing) our young people.
I honor the statistics that tell us that Black youth and other youth of color are indeed resilient. Think about this; given disproportionate exposure to discrimination, racism, police brutality, school suspensions and expulsions and intersectional gendered discrimination, we would expect Black youth to exhibit higher rates of depression and anxiety compared with their white peers (hence, there must be something in the cultural norms and practices that protects our young people). However, even with similar (though not exactly) similar prevalence rates of depression and anxiety (with some noted differences), there are glaring differences in who receives care and the quality of care received. For example, Black youth are disproportionately more likely to receive no treatment or punitive treatments for the same mental illness symptoms exhibited by their white peers and we know that African American/Black and IPOC provided are a scare resource across all mental health disciplines. So ultimately, even if we get youth into care, they are less likely to be treated by a provider of their cultural background, less likely to receive behavioral health care for an accurate diagnosis and less likely to encounter a provider with specific training and skill in #culturallycompetent care.
I believe strongly that we have a duty to serve ALL of our children and if any youth are suffering, we must act.
All of this feels very heavy at times, but I remain hopeful because I am an active participant in so many coalitions and organizations. Recently, I was honored to join a Black Youth Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Working Group formed by the Congressional Black Caucus and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman in introducing the Pursuing Equity in Mental Health Mental Act of 2019. Like my colleagues of the Working Group (all experts in policy, clinical training, research and advocacy) and like the many organizations on the ground working on this problem (like AAKOMA, The Boris L. Henson Foundation, Africa’s Mental Health Matters, the National Black Justice Coalition etc.), we are committed to a more just mental health landscape for Black youth and youth of color.
So, at this point you might be asking, what can YOU do to support? If so, I believe that:
- You can pay attention and remain aware that mental illness impacts ALL youth.
- You can donate resources: Give money to organizations doing the work; give your human resource of time if you can’t give money or give your social media chops to promote the work if you have neither time nor money (seriously, go follow some youth of color mental health advocates).
- You can reinforce the idea that (in policy, research and clinical care) #RepresentationMatters: So when you read a policy brief, or see that new, fancy “Evidence Based Treatment” you can examine the sample to determine if there is #diversity adequately represented. If not, you can ask questions, if so, you can promote actual evidence.
- You can be fully present for the young people in your life, meaning:
- Listen when your young person wants to talk (using active listening);
- Remain aware of your own feelings and mental health;
- Model regular self-care, use and teach active coping skills (e.g. take a beat instead of responding impulsively; practicing #meditation or #mindfulness, practicing healthy communication, using good sleep hygiene etc.);
- Link here and scroll to bottom of main page for a new AAKOMA Project COVID-19 low-tech high yield mental health campaign for kids without access to consistent internet, computers and Wi-Fi;
- Seek resources to learn more (like the full CBC Black Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Task Force report here).
Finally, I hope you will always remember that both I and the AAKOMA Project promote Mental Health Research and Care for All and most importantly that Healing Starts in the Heart.