Mental Health in Minority Children Needs to be Our Focus

Author: Gary Taylor, MSW, URMND Contributor

A NBC News report came out last week citing the spike in ER visits for children across the United States. It mentioned that out of all the children that were coming to the emergency room, minority numbers had increased significantly. The part that frustrated me the most was that it said, “researchers can’t explain why”.

I feel like I hear that statement too much, yet see no real action or any consultation with the experts in the field of mental health. Consider this; we are trying to establish mental health policies, in the midst of researchers “not understanding” why there is an increase in children ER visits. That sounds backwards to me.

EXHIBIT A

This is less about access to services and the amount of child psychiatrists we have across the country and more about understanding how people are treated in this nation (especially minorities). You already know where I am going.

Black folks please listen to me.

I do not expect society to legitimize the effects of historical events on African Americans because society tells us we need to get over it or “Make America Great Again.” It hasn’t even been eighty years since the Civil Rights Movement and we wonder why more minority children are in a Mental Health crisis. African-Americans have to deal with LIFE a bit differently than other cultures if you haven’t noticed.

Other ethnicities have similar plights and continue to face many struggles just as we do and I implore other cultures to chime in from their perspective. Black children aged 12-19 are in the percentage that NBC News spoke about. Suicide rates are the third leading cause of death for this population. We also know that black children are more likely to be kicked out of school at an alarming rate setting up and affirming the school to prison pipeline. Black children are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and ADD even though their style of learning may differ.

Black children are privy to generational trauma. The thought patterns and behavior of historical times are passed down from generation to generation, coupled with new and current societal stressors that even the millennial did not have to face. This is deeper than we think.

EXHIBIT B

The education system as we know it places unrealistic expectations on our youth. Do you know that the prefrontal lobe in the brain does not fully develop until age 25? It controls rationalization, impulsivity and judgment. Standardized testing for our youth, which limits the standard of intelligence to an end of the year test. Not to mention research has been gathered showing that we as a society limit the intelligence of our children once placing them into our education system.

The education system needs an overhaul fast and should be more accepting of diverse learning styles. Factors above, along with the social climate of our school systems that includes peer pressure, bullying and cyber bullying, self-injurious behaviors and suicide are more of the reason why there is an increase in emergencies room visits of our youth.

EXHIBIT C

We as people are products of our environment. It seems we have forgotten environmental factors that minorities have faced generation to generation. Have we neglected the facts that some children come from traumatic home environments? What about generational poverty? For example, when you get hungry do you get irritable? We coined the term “hangry” and Snickers has a whole commercial dedicated to it.

Research has indicated that if children are properly fed, they perform better in school. If the child is not properly fed in the morning, noon and evening how do you expect them to pay attention and learn in class? On another note, many minority children come from single parent households, grandparents raising them, traumatic home experiences, substance-induced households, domestic violence and more. Some come from families who do not know how to show love and compassion to their children. Others come from neighborhoods of violence and trauma. Everyday b! Others come from affluent households, where the ability to perform in school or sports at high level is held to a higher standard than being a normal child. Pick you poison, another reason why there is a spike in ER visits, for you guessed it! Our youth.

When will we take the time to understand that mental health is more than just a symptom or illness? Mental health is defined as how we deal with day-to-day life stressors. If I have more life stressors than I do things that make me happy, guess what? I am always going to be in a crisis. When will we take time to look at each person holistically, meaning every aspect of each person’s life to see how it affects him or her? If I am stressed out, depressed and suicidal, but my main stressor is housing, do we think that therapy is going to fix my housing situation directly? No.

There is a basic hierarchy of needs that needs to be addressed first before anything else. Something simple as food can exacerbate mental health issues. Therapy can help with support, but isn’t going to fix our hierarchy of needs. The quality of life in America is poor and that trickles down into our youth. All of these aspects make up who we are as people and individuals. When you only treat symptoms and illness, you end up with researchers scratching their head looking confused because they never took the time to examine the whole person.

That’s what Mental Health is all about it…

Address the whole person and not just symptoms.


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