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Bringing Awareness of Depression and Anxiety in Black Youth

By: Dr.Shanessa Fenner

Mental health matters. The impact of COVID-19 has been astounding for Americans and especially our young Black youth. I can’t begin to tell you how many of my friends’ Black sons asked their mothers after the brutal killing of George Floyd, “Mama, am I going to die?” Black mothers have had to sit down with their Black sons to have these crucial conversations about racism, social injustice, and the realities of being Black in America.

Black youth experience more illness, poverty, and discrimination than their White counterparts.

Black youth are less likely to receive treatment for depression and anxiety. Some of the signs of depression and anxiety in youth entail behavioral problems at school, changes in their eating and sleeping habits, mood changes, lack of interest in activities, feelings of sadness and hopelessness, fatigue, lack of energy, social withdrawal, lack of worthiness, feeling empty, etc.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in Black adolescents aged 15-24 in the United States. Some of the warning signs of suicidal behavior include isolation, giving away their prized possessions, a focus on death or dying, previous suicide attempts, having a mental health condition, and talking about suicide. Sometimes there are no warning signs. Black children are twice as likely to die by suicide than White children.

It is important to build a positive relationship with your child so that he/she will be comfortable sharing their thoughts and emotions. Allow your child to always be open and honest with you. Listen to them without judging. Do not be afraid to ask your child questions like “Have you ever thought about harming yourself or taking your own life?” or “When was the most recent time that you had these thoughts?” Their answers will let you know what kinds of actions you must take in order to ensure the professional treatment that is needed to help your child. Your child should also have positive relationships with mentors and other adults. They need to know they have a support system that they can reach out to in time of need.

The home environment should be a healthy one that does not consist of dysfunction. Children should not be exposed to domestic violence, drugs, alcohol, or any other negative situations. The home should be a safe haven where they can feel comfortable and not stressed out.

If you think your child is experiencing depression and/or anxiety contact their pediatrician and get help immediately. Time is of the essence so please do not wait. It is also important for Black youth to see therapists, social workers, guidance counselors, and other professionals that look like them. There is a certain comfort and trust that they feel when they are talking to someone who looks just like them and can relate to the disparities of being Black in America.

Suicide is real. As a principal, I have attended funerals and/or viewings of youth and adults who committed suicide. I have also had individuals share with me that they were thinking of ending their lives. It is imperative that we change the narrative of this epidemic of suicide among our Black youth today.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is (800) 273- 8255.

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