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Theron McInnis

The Steve Fund comments on the state of mental health in America

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The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the psychosocial status of youth of color is highlighted in several recent national reports, along with recommendations for actions. 

The CDC Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey (ABES) found elevated levels of emotional distress among high school teens with 44.3% reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Over half (55%) of teens said they experienced emotional abuse from a parent or caregiver and 11.3% reported suffering physical abuse. Nine percent of students reported a suicide attempt and 20% considered suicide. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens and female teens reported higher levels of poor mental health, emotional abuse by a parent or caregiver, and suicide attempts. 

Many students reported experiences of racism at school. More than 40% of Hispanic students, more than 50% of Black and students of multiple races, and more than 60% of Asian students felt they had been treated badly or unfairly at school because of their race or ethnicity (compared to just over 20% of white students). Students who reported racism were also more likely to experience poor mental health and less likely to feel connected to people at school, the ABES report notes. Asian, Black, and Hispanic students are significantly less likely than white students to say they feel close to people at their school. Students of color (AI/AN 7%, Asian 4%, Black 6%, Hispanic 5%) were less likely than white students (10%) to receive mental health care via telemedicine during the pandemic.

The high levels of stress among young people and their families underscore the need for mental health support in schools and workplaces. 

The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory, Protecting Youth Mental Health, documented the decline in mental health among young people during the pandemic which has been driven by environmental risk factors. Among them are living in an urban area or an area with more severe COVID-19 outbreaks; having a parent or caregiver who is a frontline worker; experiencing more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs); contending with more instability in financial status, food access, and housing; and losing a family member or caregiver to COVID-19. As of March 2022, more than 200,000 children under 18 lost a parent or other in-home caregiver to COVID-19. Children and youth of color lost caregiving adults at higher rates than their white peers. American Indian and Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander children lost caregivers at about 3.5 times the rate of white children; Black and Hispanic children at nearly 2 times the rate of white children; and Asian children at 1.4 times that of white children.(1)  Mental health risks were compounded by isolation and disruption in education associated with having limited internet access and language barriers to accessing healthcare in immigrant families. The Advisory outlines an extensive series of actions to address youth mental health, including recommendations for educators, health care professionals, media organizations, community organizations, employers, parents, youth, and others.

Communities of color have been under-treated for their mental health needs. As part of a broad mental health strategy announced by President Biden in his State of the Union Address, the Administration aims to strengthen the mental health system in a number of ways that will benefit young people of color. In order to facilitate access to and availability of mental health care, the strategy calls for increasing the supply and diversity of the mental health workforce and fostering the provision of culturally appropriate and affirming care. Training a diverse group of community health workers can expand access to behavioral health services in underserved communities and provide jobs for young people. 

Another important aspect of access to care is the response to those experiencing a mental health crisis. Given the frequency of traumatic experiences and the tragic criminalization of mental illness in communities of color, the new nationwide “988” crisis response line, which the Biden Administration will launch this summer, can help improve response to the mental health needs and safety of young people of color experiencing crises. Expanding access to telehealth, a safe and effective type of mental health service that has reduced barriers to care, can also be highly beneficial for young people of color. Expanding access to mental health support in schools, colleges, and universities will benefit young people of color. Ultimately, President Biden’s national mental health strategy seeks to address mental health in a holistic and equitable way helping young people of color achieve optimal mental health and rewarding futures.

To address the challenges outlined in these reports, and in line with their recommendations, The Steve Fund will continue its focus on expanding mental health support to young people of color in schools, colleges, and universities, and in the workplace, along with a variety of other initiatives. For example, we encourage young people of color to be involved in their own mental well-being and that of their peers and friends by providing opportunities to increase their knowledge and understanding about mental health, mental illness, self-care, and the importance of help-seeking when needed.

The Steve Fund also works in partnership with its Community of Action, including educators, employers, mental health professionals, families, and young people of color, to advance our programs, resources, mental health supports, and research. Recent initiatives include working with medical students of color, working directly with families of color to help them decrease stigma and increase access for their youth; and offering grief and loss workshops for teens. We continue to work with educational institutions through implementation of our Equity in Mental Health on Campus framework. 

 

  1. Source:  Hidden Pain: Children Who Lost a Parent or Caregiver to COVID-19 and What the Nation Can do to Help Them. March 2022   COVID Collaborative.  https://www.covidcollaborative.us/initiatives/hidden-pain

 

Key Data and Recommendations from the reports

 

CDC Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey (ABES)  

The report documents a broad range of impacts on youth’s daily lives, including difficulties, family economic impacts, hunger, and abuse in the home.

  • Students of color were more likely than white to report hunger; Black students were most likely to report hunger, with nearly a third reporting that there was not enough food in their home during the pandemic.

 

  • Asian, Black, and Hispanic students are significantly less likely than white students to say they feel close to people at their school.

  • More than 40% of Hispanic students, more than 50% of Black and students of multiple races, and more than 60% of Asian students felt they had been treated badly or unfairly at school because of their race or ethnicity (compared to just over 20% of white students).

  • Students who reported racism were also more likely to experience poor mental health and less likely to feel connected to people at school. [note: this statement is directly from CDC summary]

  • Students of color were significantly less likely than white students to receive mental health care  via telemedicine during the pandemic (AI/AN 7%, Asian 4%, Black 6%, Hispanic 5%, white 10%).

 

Biden Administration Mental Health Strategy

Among the many components of the strategy, it aims to

  • Facilitate access to and availability of mental health care.
  • Increase the supply and diversity of the mental health workforce.
  • Foster the provision of culturally appropriate and affirming care. 
  • Implementation of the new nationwide “988” crisis response line.
  • Expand access to telehealth, a safe and effective type of mental health service that has reduced barriers to care. 
  • Expand access to mental health support in schools and higher education institutions.

 

U.S. Surgeon General Advisory Protecting Youth Mental Health 

The advisory presents many recommendations to help protect youth mental health, including

  • Address the unique mental health needs of at-risk youth, such as racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ youth, and youth with disabilities. 
  • Use trauma-informed care principles and other prevention strategies. 

 

    • Identify and address the mental health needs of parents, caregivers, and other family members.
  • Educate the public about the importance of mental health, and reduce negative stereotypes, bias, and stigma around mental illness. 
  • Elevate the voices of children, young people, and their families.

 

The Steve Fund Crisis Response Task Force Releases Recommendations for Higher Education Institutions and Employers on Promoting Mental Health and Well-Being of Students of Color

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For Immediate Release: 
September 15, 2020
Contact
Courtney Holsworth, cholsworth@rabengroup.com, (989) 572-8162

The Steve Fund Crisis Response Task Force Releases Recommendations for Higher Education Institutions and Employers on Promoting Mental Health and Well-Being of Students of Color 

Experts provide recommendations on how to mitigate mental health risks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, economic crisis, and racial upheaval 

Washington, D.C.—The Steve Fund Crisis Response Task Force released recommendations today to help institutions of higher education and employers mitigate the mental health risks for young people of color caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, economic crisis, and ongoing social movement against racism. These multiple converging crises are creating new problems for students of color and those entering the workforce, including abrupt campus closures, continuing uncertainty around the fall semester, loss of internships and job opportunities, and adjusting to remote learning and remote work. Those whose campuses remain closed must navigate the loss of in-person contact with faculty, staff, and peers, and on-campus housing, food, support services, and social communities. Even in the best of circumstances, the transition from college to the workforce is fraught, but young employees of color are facing additional stressors this year, including racial trauma stemming from seeing or experiencing violence against Black and Brown communities. 

Despite the universal nature of these disruptions to students’ lives, students of color, who comprise approximately 45% of college undergraduates, are bearing the weight of these challenges most acutely. Between COVID-19’s disproportionate impacts – physically, economically, and mentally – and the impact of systemic racism, young people of color are grappling with unprecedented health challenges. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, students of color faced unique mental health concerns: they are more likely than their white peers to report feeling overwhelmed during their first year of college and yet they are half as likely to seek help from a mental health professional.

“The mental health challenges facing young people of color are imposing in size, scope, and gravity, and seriously threaten their ability to safely transition to healthy and productive adulthood,” said Sandra E. Timmons, Interim Executive Director of the Steve Fund. “However, these unfortunate circumstances present a unique opportunity for visionary leaders to disrupt existing patterns and accelerate innovation to promote the mental health of young people of color–an indispensable key to their overall success. Providing more robust and effective supports ultimately requires collaboration among multiple stakeholders, including higher education, employers, philanthropy, nonprofits, healthcare, and others. The recommendations we’re releasing today focus on the roles of higher education and employers–both extremely well-positioned for direct and immediate positive results in determining students’ life trajectories.” 

This is the first time leaders from across sectors have come together to consider the mental health concerns of young people of color, a population that is the driving force of our nation’s future economic and social well-being. The Task Force included students; diverse mental health experts; senior executives from corporations, colleges and universities, as well as representatives from the philanthropic, nonprofit, and policy sectors. These leaders offer five recommendations on what institutions of higher education can do to promote the mental health and wellness of students of color: 

  1. Build Trust Through Racial Trauma-Informed Leadership by prioritizing listening, demonstrating empathy towards injustices and inequalities experienced by students of color, and creating and adapting resources that respond to their mental health needs.
  2. Take a Collaborative Approach to Promote Mental Health for Students of Color by having offices such as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Student Affairs partner with the counseling center to enhance capacity; provide customized outreach to students of color; and bolster equity, inclusion, and belonging.
  3. Engage Faculty & Staff to Support Student Mental Health for Students of Color by incorporating practices to promote inclusion and belonging in both virtual and in-person classrooms and and across the campus, and equipping faculty and staff with the skills to identify signs of mental distress.
  4. Treat Student Mental Health as a Priority Area for Investment that must be strengthened for students of color even in these times of great financial strain on higher education so that high-quality virtual and in-person mental health services are easily accessible to these students. 
  5. Leverage Community and External Stakeholders to Promote Emotional Well-Being of Students of Color by partnering with local communities, non-profits, employers and faith based entities to generate creative strategies and augment resources.

The Task Force recommends that: 

  1. Focus on the Student Transition From Higher Education to the Workplace by convening conversations between higher education and workforce leaders to ideate programming and solutions; developing strategies to smooth the transfer of mental health supports, knowledge, and resources from college to work settings; and invest in employees’ development of social capital through internships and mentorships.
  2. Help Young Employees of Color Navigate the Workplace by integrating mental health and emotional well-being into all aspects of workplace operations; retaining diverse, culturally competent mental health experts to equip leaders and managers to serve as mentors and allies; and paying special attention to workplace challenges commonly affecting employees of color.
  3. Conduct a Workplace Culture and Practices Assessment with a 2020 Lens by carefully assessing whether the values employers espoused in the workplace are the same ones experienced by all employees, and specifically new employees of color.
  4. Promote Understanding of Racial Trauma, Mental Health, and Well-Being in the Workplace by recognizing the traumatic impact that violence against Black and Brown communities has on employees of color, and providing mental health and peer support resources that are accessible to these employees.
  5. Develop Allies, Advocacy, and Mobility by leveraging mental health experts and insights to support employees of color at early career stages.

To read the full set of recommendations from The Steve Fund Crisis Response Task Force Report, please visit: https://stevefund.org/crisis-response-task-force

For interviews with The Steve Fund, experts from the Task Force, or students of color please contact Courtney Holsworth at cholsworth@rabengroup.com or (989) 572-8162. 

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The Steve Fund is the nation’s leading organization focused on supporting the mental, social, and emotional health and well-being of young people of color. 

Our Mission: Promoting the mental health and emotional well-being of young people of color