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Theron McInnis

Steve Fund Black History Month February 2023

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People have often wondered why Black History Month is in February, the shortest month of the year. Apparently, this month was chosen in honor of Frederick Douglass, whose birthday is in February and because of Valentine’s Day, a celebration of love.

Frederick Douglass was a wise man, abolitionist, and freedom fighter, who experienced numerous traumas, hardships, and barriers to progress during his enslavement.  Despite these impediments, he managed to become a learned man and a leader pushing forward the quest for freedom of Black people. He had many words of wisdom including, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” His work and writing still resonate over a century and a half later.

There are many parallels between the life of Frederick Douglass and what young people of color are dealing with today. Historically, Black people have joined in solidarity with people in other racial groups to advocate for freedom for all. While we are celebrating Black History Month, the spirit of this observance carries over to all people of good conscience and goodwill. We are all in the same boat seeking wellbeing and the freedom to live and love.

This month, we acknowledge the courage and care it takes to seek wellbeing and freedom. As poet and activist Audre Lorde said, “When I dare to be powerful to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” 

This Black History Month, each of us can take strength from the heroes of our history to consider our opportunities today — to care for ourselves, for our communities, and for a shared, equitable, sustainable future. 

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Gentle January: Supporting our mental health journey in 2023 one step at a time

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The new year allows us to reboot, reset, and renew. Rather than big, bold resolutions as we step into 2023, the Steve Fund suggests pursuing a kinder, gentler January. Each of us can unpack 2022 at our own pace, re-examining what happened and reconsidering the implications going forward for young people of color and our families, educational institutions, and communities. 

 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released their survey results of the challenges young people of color faced in school during the pandemic. They highlighted the importance of connection as a protective factor against racism. Harmful episodes of Asian hate were reported across the country. Horrific mass shootings occurred in the Black and Latino/a/x communities of Buffalo and Uvalde against a steady drumbeat of everyday violence across the nation. The chilling discovery of burial sites of young Indigenous people at boarding schools revealed a sordid history of abuse. Books by authors of color were banned in some school systems.

 

In the face of challenges, young people push forward.

Despite these and other disturbing events contributing to psychological distress and other mental health concerns, there have been numerous signs of hope — and young people of color have continued to push ahead. They voted in record numbers with their peers to make their voices heard. Racially diverse groups of young people banded together to protest threats to affirmative action at the Supreme Court. Young people of color with government-backed higher education loans are waiting for student debt relief to become a reality. A young person of color in Florida has become the youngest ever elected to the U.S. Congress at age 25.

 

Reimagine what you want in 2023

As you reflect on these developments and your journey in 2022, reimagine what you want to do this year. You may re-prioritize what seemed less important last year to the top of your 2023 to-do list. Rekindling relationships and revising strategies may be in order. Some things may need to be let go, so choosing to discard rather than rehash may be the way. Reinvest in your mental health and well-being by utilizing virtual resources geared toward young people of color, including the Steve Fund’s Wellness Circles and Crisis Text Line (TEXT STEVE TO 741741).

 

Regardless of the direction you choose in 2023, remember, as things unfold, you can always correct, re-route, and proceed. Have a gentle January — and have safe, successful travels on the path forward. And while you’re at it, reclaim your joy!

 

Dr. Annelle Primm

Senior Medical Director

The Steve Fund

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.

 

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