Black youth are facing more mental health concerns than ever. It is important to listen and to direct them to seek help as an adult.

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Grades, hormones, and life choices can affect the mental health of a child.

The Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey shows that 44% of teens report “persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness.”

Despite this, a 2013 review noted that Black children in the United States are not as likely to be diagnosed with mental health conditions.

Also, Black teens with mental health conditions are less likely to seek treatment, though they’re more likely to experience higher rates of depressive moods, according to a 2019 study.

The global COVID-19 Pandemic has helped and hindered this figure.

There are ways you can help the Black youth.

In 2019, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) created an emergency task force to help address unclear data involving suicide in Black youth.

The current generation of Black teens and children have higher suicide rates than previous generations, according to the data.

And the 2021 Mental Health in American report states that this rate is increasing faster than any other ethnic group. However, historical data showed that Black youth died by suicide at low rates.

Though Black youth experience similar mental health challenges as their non-Black peers, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) named racism as one of the leading causes of the mental health concerns that Black youth face.

According to a 2020 study, Black teens may experience up to five instances of discrimination per day on average.

Research from 2015 shows that interactions like this can lead to higher rates of depression.

Despite these findings, a 2016 study found that Black youth are still half as likely as their white counterparts to seek help for their mental health.

Black youth are more likely to be misdiagnosed with mental health concerns.

A Rutgers University study suggests that Black Americans who have severe depression are more likely to be misdiagnosed with schizophrenia. Another study shows that Black youth ranging in age from kindergarten to eighth grade are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than other races.

Both studies show that there is a lack of cultural competency.

School-to-prison pipeline

Sometimes it comes from conscious or unconscious bias from adults, but often it comes from being bullied from peers.

According to a Yale University research brief, teachers may keep a more watchful eye on Black students, even when the student is preschool age.

A 2018 report states that Black children are also more likely to be punished more harshly for the same behaviors as their white classmates. This perpetuates the school-to-prison pipeline or the instance that youth are more likely to be incarcerated after consistently experiencing harsh school punishments.

Black youth are less likely to get mental health treatment than their non-Black peers.

According to a 2010 study, when 465 9th-grade Black students were surveyed, half reported having mental health needs, but only 20% received treatment.

Black youth may be less likely to seek help than their peers.

Cultural stigmas

The CBC task force report notes that Black youth, especially Black boys, tend to seek mental health help as a last resort treatment, as they fear they may be ridiculed by their friends and loved ones.

Black youth may be afraid of being teased for having mental health concerns by their friends and family may encourage them to keep their problems hidden from outsiders.

Distrust in healthcare systems

The report states that a cultural distrust in healthcare systems keeps Black youth from seeking help for their mental health.

The report calls for the need for culturally competent therapists and mental health professionals to better assist their patients who are in underrepresented groups.

A difference in expressing symptoms

According to the CBC task force report, Black youth may not always vocalize their mental health concerns like their white peers do, leading to a lack of proper treatment.

Black youth are more likely to have behavioral or conduct issues that will show signs of depression. Black youth may have physical symptoms such as a stomach ache.

Keep in mind

Seeking help for your mental health is important. If you want to know more about therapy and how it can help you, you can check out Psych Central’s hub for finding mental health support.

Complex layers to the daily lives of individuals across the world have been added by COVID-19.

Businesses and schools were forced to close for an extended period due to the Pandemic. People were able to spend more time with their families.

But a 2021 study showed that some Black youth experienced negative emotions toward their social lives being impacted and the need to switch to virtual school environments amidst the pandemic.

Black youth were uncomfortable leaving their homes and risked getting sick if they did.

Racial health disparities during COVID-19

Black youth have been experiencing change in social environments during the Pandemic, but they also have encountered health inequalities that many other people of color have experienced.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), inequities that may have contributed to increased rates of coronavirus infections in BIPOC communities included:

  • discrimination
  • Inaccessibility to healthcare.
  • There are gaps in education and wealth.
  • Injustice in housing.

Also, research from 2022 shows that Indigenous, Pacific Islander, and Black Americans have the highest mortality rates for COVID-19. Black Americans account for 14.3% of COVID-19 deaths nationwide, although Black people account for only 12.9% of the population.

Mandates have been helpful

Despite the change in social environments and the disproportionate rates at which BIPOC have been affected by COVID-19, some research suggests that stay-at-home mandates during the pandemic may have been helpful for some youth.

A 2021 study — though focused largely on Hispanic youth — showed evidence that better family functioning contributed to lower mental health symptoms in youth, especially for youth who experienced significant mental health challenges before the pandemic.

It is important to let black children know that they are not alone and that someone is willing to help them.

Talk with your children

Try to speak with your children regularly, giving them a safe space to express themselves and validate their feelings and experiences. This will also give you time to watch for any signs of distress.

According to Mental Health America, some signs to look out for that a child may be having mental health challenges can include:

  • Problems with concentration or memory
  • appetite changes
  • Feelings of emptiness, sadness, or worthlessness.
  • Extreme worry or panic.
  • Change in sleeping habits.
  • lost interest in activities
  • “Hearing or seeing things that others don’t do.”

Some behaviors may signal more serious mental health complications, such as suicidal thoughts. These can include:

  • obsession with death
  • Increased use of drugs and alcohol.
  • There is little or no interest in the future.
  • Changes in personality are very drastic.

Have open conversations about seeking help

It is important to have open conversations about mental health and to allow your child to ask questions.

Conversations could be about mental health itself, or they may be about factors that cause mental health challenges, such as racism. And try not to be afraid to ask your child the hard questions, such as if they’re having thoughts of suicide.

When speaking with your child, try to be empathetic and reinforce that their feelings aren’t their fault and that there’s nothing wrong with experiencing negative mental health symptoms.

Try to encourage seeking outside help and, if possible, destigmatize the idea of seeking therapy and treatment.

Seek culturally competent therapists

If your child needs therapy, you should consider hiring a culturally competent therapist.

When looking for a culturally competent therapist, the National Alliance on Mental Illness recommends keeping these questions in mind:

  • “Is the therapist familiar with your child’s culture, beliefs and values?”
  • Are they willing to learn more about your child?
  • Do they have experience with patients with cultural background?
  • Have they had cultural competency training?
  • How do they plan to include cultural aspects in therapy sessions?
  • “Are they familiar with your child’s dialect?”

There are other resources and steps you can take to help Black youth with mental health concerns.

For adults:

  • Make sure children are screened for anxiety. According to the U.S. Preventative Service Task Force, children should now be screened for anxiety by a healthcare professional as early as 8 years old. They also recommend that children 12 years old and older be screened for depression.
  • Support for grieving and mourning. A report shows that 1 in 500 children lost a parent. It is important to allow children a way to grieve, as they may have felt isolated from their families.
  • Look out for signs of mental health concerns in the classroom. Children spend a large portion of their lives in school. It may be helpful for teachers and other adults to monitor children for signs of negative mental health symptoms and alert caregivers and a school counselor if possible and when necessary.

For youth:

  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can call Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for English or 888-628-9454 for Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • The Trevor Project. LGBTQIA+ and under 25 years old? You can call 866-488-7386, text START to 678678, or chat online 24/7.
  • Deaf Crisis Line. You can call 321-800-3323, text HAND to 839863, or visit their website.
  • Befrienders Worldwide. This international crisis helpline network can help you find a local helpline.
  • The Steve Fund. For a culturally competent Crisis Text Line counselor, you can text STEVE to 741741.

Ensuring Black youth are heard and helped when needed can help prevent them from carrying mental health concerns into adulthood.

If you’re looking for more resources on how to help, you can check out Psych Central’s Mental Health Resources for People of Color.

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As the world continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that the last few years have impacted young people in unprecedented ways. That’s why Psych Central and Healthline Mental Well-Being have teamed up to create our Youth in Focus program to provide relevant, actionable content and resources for parents and youth to help navigate the curveballs life throws your way.

We are here to help answer the hard questions and cope when things get tough. We are here for you if you need help with mental health challenges, crisis, or dealing with parenting burnout.

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