The mental health of America’s children is worsening.
In a recent study of more than 7,000 high school students, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 55.1% mentioned suffering emotional abuse, while 4.2% reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
Nine percent attempted suicide.
At an EMS briefing on April 15, experts used these statistics to frame the worsening mental health of minority children in America. Mental stress surged in the pandemic as suicidal behavior rose in young women and LGBTQ+ youth, more Asian kids confronted racism and hate, while Black youth, Native Americans, and Latinos experienced more hunger and economic devastation.
Angela Vasquez, Policy Director for Mental Health at the Children’s Partnership, said that nearly 50% of youth who are severely impaired with a major depressive episode did not receive treatment. She added that Black and Latino children were about 14% less likely than white youth to receive treatment for their depression.
Over half of Latina girls are worried about a friend or family member being deported, explained Vasquez, noting that “since the pandemic started, Asian youth have been experiencing harassment and bullying” because of their family name or country of origin.
Among Native youth said Vasquez, “suicide is the second leading cause of death, nearly three and a half times higher than the national average. And high school girls across all races and ethnicities made plans to attempt suicide more than boys.”
“Among black teenage girls, suicide death rates increased from 2001 to 2017 by 182%,” said Sydney McKinney Ph.D., the Executive Director of National Black Women’s Justice Institute in Brooklyn. “Black girls account for 43% of girls who are in youth detention which is more than any other racial group.”
Dr. Myo Thwin Myint, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Tulane University’s School of Medicine, blamed unfair societal imbalances like the disparity in care that exists for LGBTQ and trans kids, as one reason why they suffer disproportionately from pandemic-related mental health challenges.
AltaMed’s Chief Medical Affairs Officer, Dr. Iian Shapiro, said that at least 50% of his patients were directly touched by COVID-19, either from falling sick, the death of a family member, or harm from the pandemic.
“We need to translate medical terms to an actionable language that our community can actually do something with… It’s up to us to make sure that we create open conversations and resources with media with healthcare providers,” proposed Dr. Shapiro, in order to amplify mental health and wellness programs and services that are culturally affirming and gender responsive.
Dr. McKinney advised that addressing the mental health and wellness of black women and girls was key to reducing their risk of contact with the juvenile legal and the criminal legal system.
At the Children’s Partnership, an alliance of 15 community-based organizations called the Hope, Healing and Health Collective, aims to better understand and promote positive mental health in youth and youth services.
Civic engagement in particular, can be a mental health intervention,” said Dr.McKinney. “Building opportunities for young people to speak truth to power and connect with their communities is key for their development.”
“We have found that they want school-based services and culturally affirming strategies to eliminate disparities,” said Vasquez.
Investing in strategies to foster positive, ethnic racial identities in young, marginalized people of color, is vital if we want to avert a “pandemic” of future adults with serious emotional and mental disorders.
The federal government recognized that a crisis is happening, said Dr. Myo Thwin Myint, because Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has announced a general mental health advisory.
“It was really good to see that there’s recognition from the federal government and we hope that what follows will be an investment in our youth’s mental health.”