Youth Mental Health

What is mental health? According to the American Psychological Association (APA) Dictionary of Psychology, mental health is
a state of mind characterized by emotional well-being, good behavioral adjustment, relative freedom from anxiety and disabling symptoms, and a capacity to establish constructive relationships and cope with the ordinary demands and stresses of life. See also flourishing, normality.

The impact is more than in statistics and factoids, it’s in experiences, feelings, and emotions. It’s in our families, with our friends and in our communities. Having a mental health problem should not be any different than experiencing a physical problem or illness. And it doesn’t have to be; you can help make a difference.  Learn everything you can about what mental illness looks like for people from YOUR background and share that knowledge with everyone you know. Together, we can eradicate stigma, improve mental healthcare and ensure that every single one of us has the opportunity to achieve #optimalmentalhealth.

Key Stats:

Black youth report that seeking professional help for mental health can be associated with social stigma (Breland-Noble, Harb, & Williams, 2015).

25% of youth who worked with The AAKOMA Project in one of our research studies endorsed the statement “I have a good understanding about how comparative effectiveness research works”

At no other point in life are Black youth more likely to die by suicide than during adolescents and young adulthood. We address this devastating impact on the community by providing training on suicide prevention. In 2021, we trained over 225 people on suicide prevention for black youth.

Types of Disorders

Anxiety Disorders are mental health disorders characterized by feelings of worry, anxiety, or fear that are strong enough to interfere with one’s daily activities. Examples of anxiety disorders include panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms include stress that’s out of proportion to the impact of the event, inability to set aside a worry, and restlessness. Tested treatments include counseling and/or medications, but for many families of color, treatments are enhanced by engagement of supportive systems, like the faith community and community based supports.

A chronic condition including difficulty focusing, hyperactivity (“hard to keep still”), and impulsiveness (acting without weighing consequences). ADHD often begins in childhood (and is typically diagnosed in elementary school aged children, but it can persist into adulthood. ADHD has multiple types including one type Otha primary focus on inattention, another with a primary focus on impulsivity and a third that prominently features both types of behaviors. ADHD may impacts children’s self-esteem, relationships, and contribute to difficulty at school or work. While treatments may include medication and talk therapy, it is important for families of Youth of Color to note that ADHD may be misdiagnosed (as a disruptive behavior problem in their young people) so working with a culturally competent mental health provider is crucial.

Conduct Disorder is a serious behavioral and emotional concern that is most often diagnosed in childhood and features difficult to manage behavioral symptoms like a child’s unwillingness to follow rules consistently, angry and aggressive outbursts and disruptive behaviors. Black and Latinx/e children specifically are more likely to be misdiagnosed with conduct disorder so working with a culturally competent psychological assessment coordinator and mental health professional are critical for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a mental illness frequently diagnosed in a childhood that is characterized by persistent disobedience to authority figures. Symptoms typically begin before the age of eight and occur in a group of symptoms. Behaviors exhibited include persistent irritable mood, argumentativeness, aggression, and vindictiveness occurring for more than six months and causing significant problems in multiple settings (i.e. home school, play, church, etc). Black and Latinx/e children specifically are more likely to be misdiagnosed with this disorder, so working with a culturally competent psychological assessment coordinator and mental health professional are critical for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

A mental health disorder characterized by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life. Possible causes include a combination of biological, psychological, and social sources of distress (including what we call social determinants of health like exposure to racism and discrimination). The persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest that characterizes major depressive illness can lead to a range of behavioral and physical symptoms. These may include changes in sleep, appetite, energy level, concentration, daily behavior, or self-esteem. In children, depressive symptoms can be masked by assertiveness and/or irritability.

A mental disorder characterized by a disconnection from reality. Psychosis is most often associated with psychiatric illnesses like schizophrenia. In other instances, it may be caused by a health condition, medications, or substance use. Possible symptoms include delusions, hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that others cannot see or hear), talking incoherently, and agitation. The person with the condition usually isn’t aware of their behavior. Treatments may include medication and talk therapy.

Eating disorders are behavioral conditions characterized by severe and persistent disturbance in eating behaviors and associated distressing thoughts and emotions. They can be very serious conditions affecting physical, psychological and social function. Types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, other specified feeding and eating disorder, pica and rumination disorder.

A disorder that affects a person’s ability to think, feel, and behave clearly. The exact cause of schizophrenia isn’t known, but a combination of genetics, environment, and altered brain chemistry and structure may play a role. Schizophrenia is characterized by thoughts or experiences that seem out of touch with reality, disorganized speech or behavior, and decreased participation in daily activities. Difficulty with concentration and memory may also be present. Treatment is usually lifelong and often involves a combination of medications, psychotherapy, and coordinated specialty care services.

Trauma is defined as our responses to a distressing or disturbing event like military combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, sexual assault or prolonged encounters with racism and discrimination. Therefore trauma exposure is the act of being confronted with a stressing and disturbing event. People can have a stress response to trauma that is acute (lasting 6 months or less) or chronic (lasting more than 6 months). In addition, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people develop after trauma exposure. PTSD is characterized by reliving the traumatic experience, intrusive thoughts about the experience, hypervigilance (constantly being on high alert and assessing situations to avoid threats).