Centering the Mental Health of Black Youth

by Bri Little

At the end of February, in partnership with WA Therapy Fund Foundation and The Root of Our Youth, KCTS 9 put on an event called “Well Beings: Centering the Mental Health of Black Youth.” The event is part of a virtual Well Beings Initiative “tour” that features young leaders across the U.S. who are working to destigmatize mental illness in their communities. 

The night’s event was hosted by Deaunte Damper, vice president of the WA Therapy Fund Foundation. He facilitated a discussion that delved into the topics of daily trauma that Black youth endure due to racism, the stigma attached to seeking mental health treatment, and how young Black people can advocate for the services they deserve. 

High school students Mia Dabney and SirKeenan Hart shared how they have been impacted by racism and violence against Black people, especially in the wake of last year’s uprising after the murder of George Floyd. Dabney, a member of the NAACP Youth Coalition and junior at Cleveland High School, said, “You can feel the pain of every Black person who has died. You can feel it in your back and in your heart. It’s something you have to take care of because it’s something we feel every day.” 

Hart, a freshman at O’Dea High School and participant in the Glover EmpowerMentoring (GEM) Program, shared a situation in which he was stopped and accused of shoplifting because he was in a rush to get out of the store after purchasing his groceries. Fortunately, his dad was there to stand up for him. “This is what we’re talking about,” he said. “This is the world we’re [growing] up in. You have to be ready for a situation like that.” 

Racialized encounters, as well as the pressure of being a teenager during the COVID-19 pandemic, can have a profound negative impact on young people, contributing to feelings of isolation and hopelessness. Dabney and Hart are working alongside mentors and providers to achieve more mental health resources for Black youth as well as more help with navigating the services that currently exist. 

Toni Williams, a solutions-based therapist in Renton, emphasized the importance of open dialogue and support from guardians and parents to make the process of seeking help less daunting for young people. “There are a lot of parents who do want their child to engage in conversation about American society and systemic racism,” she clarified. “We have to be intentional about erasing the stigma. There isn’t gonna be a label, just a space to unpack what kids are experiencing.” 

The program also included a segment with Mabel Bongmba, a Black psychiatrist who offered tips on how young people can gauge if a therapist is right for them. One tip is that they may want to find a provider who looks like them, which Bongmba acknowledges can be challenging. She pointed toward resources such as the Therapy for Black Girls website, which can assist Black people with finding therapists in their area that can address their specific needs. 

From the panelists’ discussion, it is clear that there are serious systemic barriers to Black youth accessing care for their mental health and wellness, barriers that require action. But there is hope. There are people of all ages committed to creating access to support programs — such as GEM — for Black youth who experience isolation while trying to achieve emotional and mental wellness. Kendrick Glover, founder of GEM, reminded young people, “You are more than your worst mistake.” 

As Black young people cope with our changing world and the uncertainties of the future, the panelists offered their strategies for creating a mental escape. Dabney likes to journal about her feelings and experiences. Hart likes to blast his favorite music and draw in a notebook. Williams enjoys aesthetic pleasures like getting her nails and hair done. Glover finds peace within himself by meditating and relaxing. 

This event shared myriad resources for Black youth to both receive mental health support and advocate for their own well-beings.

Watch the event here:

For more information on the Well Beings Initiative and mental health resources for Black youth, check out The Greater Seattle Mental Health Resource Toolkit at Well Beings’ website.

Bri Little is a DC-raised, Seattle-based writer and editor. She covers Black culture and arts, with the intention of highlighting myriad ways Black people express joy and healing. Her favorite things are thriller novels, pop culture, and sparkling water. Follow her on Twitter @iamaytman.

Featured Image: Screenshot by Bri Little

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