When you consider mass-shootings, many of which have afflicted communities of color across America, racial disparities, and a COVID-19 pandemic that has severely impacted minority populations in terms of hospitalization and deaths, there’s little doubt that many are struggling with their mental health.
That’s especially true when it comes to minority youth, including Blacks, and unless their mental health needs are addressed or treated, severe consequences to their overall health and educational path may follow. Untreated mental health diagnoses can also have a huge impact on academics and ultimately one’s career attainment, as well as overall life.
With July being National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, surveys show because of racial disparities and tensions, mass shootings and the pandemic, minority youth are more likely to feel sad, hopeless and attempt suicide, but much less likely to get help or mental health treatment than their white peers.
“It’s important to reflect on these news events as they’ve had a special impact on minority youth, including feelings of anger and shock,” said Dr. Evita Limon-Rocha, a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “Only by taking an inventory of oneself can we start to realize areas on which these difficult events have impacted us. These different events can result in microtraumas, and taking care of our children’s mental health is so incredibly important.”
Dr. Limon-Rocha said it’s important for parents to keep a watchful eye for changes in behavior in their children and adolescents that can lead to mental health challenges. Symptoms of depression include changes in appetite, increased irritability, spending more time alone, crying more or becoming easily tearful, difficulties in focusing, not taking care of oneself like showering, not changing one’s clothes, or just not having the energy to get out of bed.
Other signs include low motivation, changes in sleep, and things the child or teen used to love doing like drawing or playing music are no longer enjoyable. Grades and relationships can also be strongly impacted by biologic diagnoses like depression and anxiety.
It’s important to understand why seeking treatment for mental health issues is often needed, and why the stigma surrounding this topic must be eliminated, Dr. Limon-Rocha noted.
“I like to start with the example of glasses,” she explained. “Most of us know someone who uses glasses and that without glasses, it can strongly negatively impact the individual. Without appropriate glasses, individuals can have difficulty seeing, get headaches and fall behind in school. No amount of squinting or using ones hands as binoculars will help them to see clearer. Hence, depression and anxiety felt by our youth are biologic alterations in the brain, and just like some need glasses, the same is true for need for treatment for mental health diagnoses.”
Mental health treatment can look differently for diagnoses such as depression or anxiety, Dr. Limon-Rocha explained. Sometimes, it consists of talking to someone like a therapist and learning skills to deal with stressful situations and feelings. Other times, medication may be helpful.
“When people seek mental health treatment, it’s about supporting families to acquire the tools to have stronger more enriched relationships,” Dr. Limon-Rocha explained. “When we talk about mental health challenges felt by our children, it’s not a failure of parenting or that you’re a terrible parent, but more support is needed, and that’s what professionals are there for. Just like if you had a broken leg, you’d get a cast, or if you had an infection, you’d get it treated. Mental health is an equally important part of our health that needs medical attention as well.”
Dr. Limon-Rocha stressed it’s important that we be well-informed and have conversations about how our children may be experiencing anxiety and depression.
“We need to know what to recognize and where to seek help, and that may include having a conversation with your pediatrician,” she said. “We also need to think about mental health diagnoses just like we would a broken arm, a heart attack or needing glasses. It’s important to seek care and know it’s not a failure of being a parent, but rather that at this juncture in time, more skills and support are needed to help a child, teen or family. The treatment for depression and anxiety among children can look very differently, and we need to see mental health as a critically important part of our overall health.”
About the author: Terry Kanakri is a Senior Media Relations Specialist at Kaiser Permanente Southern California Region.