Youth-Centered Strategies for Hope, Healing, and Health
In light of the past year, the need for culturally responsive and gender-affirming mental health services is as apparent and urgent as ever. The nation’s foremost experts on the mental health and wellness of children and adolescents have all raised the alarms about the distressing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice on the health and emotional well-being of our youth. In a joint statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health, and the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, highlighted the critical need to address the youth mental health crisis. The sobering reality is that the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified a pre-existing mental health crisis among youth of color, placing a spotlight on the importance for us to collectively act now.
In response, The Children’s Partnership (TCP) and the National Black Women’s Justice Institute (NBWJI) formed a youth-led policy council: The Hope, Healing and Health Collective (H3 Collective). With support and thought partnership from adult allies within policy, research, direct service and government, the H3 Collective developed a policy agenda that builds the capacity of youth-serving systems to provide effective, compassionate and trauma-responsive care to marginalized youth and their communities.
The Collective’s aim is to expand the availability and accessibility of culturally-responsive and gender affirming mental health services and support to marginalized youth. Our work intentionally centers the experiences of Black and Latina girls, Indigenous youth and LGBTQ+ youth of color, who data show are disproportionately at risk for depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and self-harming behaviors. Despite evidence of a demonstrated need, youth of color do not engage in traditional clinical mental health services at rates that are proportionate to the need. The reasons for their reluctance are well-founded and complex, including limited access, social stigma, misgivings about the efficacy of treatment and distrust of predominantly white providers. Addressing these issues will require policymakers to confront multiple sources of inequity across the mental health, health, education and other youth serving systems.
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