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Mental-Health Treatment Disparities Persist for Young People of Color

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Thursday, July 14, 2022   

The pandemic has had a significant impact on young kids' mental health and due to long-standing treatment disparities, the mental and emotional recovery for kids of color may be more difficult than for their white counterparts.

A report from Mental Health America (MHA) found white children with depression were more likely to receive specific mental-health counseling. Students of color, meanwhile, typically either receive no counseling or "non-specialty mental health services."

Dr. Asha Patton-Smith, a child/adolescent psychiatrist with the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group, said it is up to parents and caregivers to start the mental health conversation with their children.

"What I like is really open-ended questions," Patton-Smith suggested. "Just saying, 'Hey, you know, I was just noticing you seem a little more isolated than usual. Tell me what's going on.' The more open-ended, the more you'll get a response."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise building community connections as a way to combat mental-health issues. The Center also recommends schools link students to mental-health services, integrate social and emotional learning and review discipline policies to ensure equitable treatment.

The MHA report noted depression rates are highest among multiracial youths, sitting about 4% higher than the average. Patton-Smith said allowing treatment disparities to persist, and leaving mental-health issues untreated, can have long-lasting impacts.

"It increases the likelihood of other mental-health disorders developing," Patton-Smith emphasized. "Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, untreated post-traumatic stress disorder. It can increase the likelihood of suicidal ideation or death by suicide."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a third of all high school students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019, a pre-pandemic statistic which was already up 40% from 2009. Patton-Smith added Black children and young adults of color also may face entrenched social stigmas around mental health.

"In the African American community and the Latinx community, we still have a long way to go," Patton-Smith contended. "There's still challenges in understanding that depression, anxiety and mood issues are not character flaws, they're not personal weaknesses."

She added combating the stigma begins with conversations about mental health in churches and schools, where having a person of color involved in the conversation as a counselor or mental-health expert is critical.


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