“Mental illness is not a character flaw. It’s not something a person can just simply “get over.” It’s not a person’s fault. Mental health issues can be anything from dealing with particularly stressful periods to something more serious like depression or schizophrenia.”– Ms. Fran

gerina and mmhmThis summer, YO S.O.S. led a 6-week youth leadership program with a group of 24 young people. One of the topics covered was minority mental health, and this culminated in an event at the end of the program cycle in which youth presented on their findings. On Thursday, August 10, 2017, six youth from the YO S.O.S. summer program held a Community Conversation in which they presented on the statistics, personal experiences, importance and facts of mental health in communities of color. The event was attended by 14 people including staff, youth families and friends, and community members including representatives from ThriveNYC and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Planning for the event began with the youth interns meeting regularly with the Mediation Center’s Youth and Community Clinician, Gerina Davis. They decided that they wanted to bring awareness, inform people, and promote an open minded perspective about people with mental health conditions. The youth acknowledged that they had often seen mental illness taken as a joke or ignored and discussed that the stigma associated with mental health impacted many individuals and families. Together the group resolved to tackle the concept of “ending the stigma.”

For those who missed the event, here are some of the statistics that were shared regarding the ways in which fear of stigma is experienced within Black and Asian American communities:

  • Adult Black/African Americans are 20% more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult whites. Stigma and judgement prevents Black/African Americans from seeking treatment for their mental illnesses. Black men are more concerned about stigma. [1]
  • Suicide death rates are 30% higher for 15-24 year old Asian American females than they are for white females.[2] Lack of awareness of resources and services that are available, as well as stigma surrounding mental health issues, are the biggest deterrents in seeking professional help.[3]

mmhmOne highlight of the event was when one of the youth facilitators shared a personal experience he had with a mental health provider and how that negatively impacted him. His peers noted that him sharing his experience caused those in attendance to share their own experiences and take the conversation to another level of interaction and vulnerability. One of the attendees who was a mental health professional stated that it was good to hear about these experiences as it informed her on ways to be mindful of her clients and improve as a clinician. Overall the energy of support was evident in the space throughout the night.

After the forum, the youth were bursting with ideas. They suggested continued organizing and action including starting circle groups for those who are directly impacted by mental health conditions, and going into schools to educate peers about mental health and ending the stigma attached to the topic. In the near future, some of the youth along with other people will be speaking at an event focusing on mental health in communities of color hosted by the Mayor’s Office and Healing Minds and Hearts, LLC in Manhattan. The youth have also been working on producing a public service announcement video and are now in the post-production phase of the project. They plan to develop two videos to be debuted this fall. Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting initiative!
[1] U.S Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Mental Heath (2016). Mental health and African Americans.
[2] Office of Minority Mental Health. (2016).Retrieved from http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/templates/content.aspx?ID=6476
[3] Nishi, K. (2016). Mental health among Asian Americans. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/asian-american/article-mental-health.aspx