Black youth in the U.S. experience more illness, poverty, and discrimination than their White counterparts. These issues put them at higher risk for depression and other mental health problems. Yet Black youth are less likely to seek treatment. About 9 percent of them reported an episode of major depression in the past year, but less than half of those — about 40 percent — received treatment. By comparison, about 46 percent of White youth who reported an episode were treated for depressive symptoms.
Instead, some turn to suicide, now the second leading cause of death among Black children ages 10 to 19. That rate is rising faster for them than any other racial or ethnic group. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the rate of suicide attempts for Black adolescents rose 73 percent from 1991 to 2017.
With schools nationwide grappling with how to offer instruction to students, principals and teachers need to be reminded that Black children have endured a distinctive kind of trauma since the pandemic began. They have had a different experience.
Studies suggest Black youth and their families may be less likely to identify their own mental health symptoms. If they do receive referrals for care, they may follow up less often than Whites. Delays in seeking care can lead to negative consequences, including emergency psychiatric hospitalizations and noncompliance with treatment recommendations. These youngsters may then become adults with mental health issues that remain unaddressed.
Parents and caregivers should encourage treatment. But interviews with them done as part of one study revealed they sometimes obstruct the process. Many feared their child would be labeled “crazy.” Those caregivers, sensitive to social stigma, also relied on others in the community when deciding to pursue treatment for their sons. Sometimes they would receive support from those they spoke with; other times, they would not.
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