About 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. Black youth are more likely to be diagnosed with conduct disorders than their white counter parts. Due to this discrepancy the research and efforts of The AAKOMA Project are more urgent and necessary than ever.”

Sources: Breland-Noble, A., Streets, F., & Jordan, A. (2023). Black Mental Health in the USA: Nothing for Us without Us Community-based participatory research with Black people and Black scientists: the power and the promise. The Lancet – Psychiatry, 17(12). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(23)00338-3 Breland-Noble, A. M., Al-Mateen, C., & Singh, N. (2016). Handbook of Mental Health in African American Youth. Springer.

Types of Disorders

ADHD is a chronic condition with symptoms that include 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 can persist into adulthood. ADHD has multiple types including one type with a primary focus on inattention, another with a primary focus on impulsivity, and a third that prominently features both types of behaviors. ADHD may impact 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 and Young Adults of Color to note that ADHD may be misdiagnosed (as a disruptive behavior problem in their young people), so working with a culturally responsive mental health provider is crucial.

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 community-based systems, like faith or school.

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 responsive psychological assessment coordinator and mental health professional are critical for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Depressive Illness is 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.

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.

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 responsive psychological assessment coordinator and mental health professional are critical for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Psychosis is 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.

Schizophrenia is a disorder that affects a person’s ability to think, feel, and behave clearly. 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. 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, and/or hypervigilance (constantly being on high alert and assessing situations to avoid threats).