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Black Student Mental Health Decline & Black Teen Suicides on the Rise
Black youth suicide rates have been rising since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, it’s the second leading cause of death among Black youth between the ages of 10 and 19. According to a recently published study, there has been a marked increase in suicides among Black adolescents over the past two decades.
Between 2003 and 2017, roughly 1,810 Black youth between the ages of 5 and 17 died by suicide. However, the majority of the deaths were among teen boys between the ages of 15 and 17.
The study also found a rapidly closing gender gap. The suicide rate among Black girls increased at an average of 6.6% annually, more than twice that of Black boys. Moreover, 40% of pre-teen and teen girl suicides were between ages 12 and 14.
As a result of the pandemic and growing mental health crisis in Black youth, Biden-Harris’ American Rescue Plan provided $122 billion in relief funds for schools. Dr. Miguel Cardona, the US Secretary of the Department of Education under the Biden-Harris’ Administration, says schools can reopen safely and have the funding to address students’ mental health, academic, social, and emotional needs.
Dr. Miguel Cardona’s Plan
The new studies have important implications for Black communities that the Biden-Harris Administration seeks to address. Dr. Miguel Cardona and his team created a Road Map for improving access and resources for youth mental health care. Dr. Cardona serves as the Secretary of Education and is a Senior Cabinet member.
“If we go back to the school system that we had in March of 2020 [pre-pandemic school closings], we’re doing them a disservice,” Dr. Miguel Cardona said to The Black Wall Street Times. “We need to make sure that we are embedding in our school days more time for social workers and school counselors to engage.”
Cardona’s ‘Supporting Child and Student Social, Emotional, Behavioral and Mental Health’ guide reveals seven key challenges that schools face. The new plan also addresses student mental health needs and makes seven recommendations, and shares best practices in response.
“We know Black and Brown families were impacted more severely from COVID-19. Therefore, the impact, including social-emotional impacts, was greater in many of these communities. So the expectation is when we’re talking about equity, we’re providing more mental health support,” Dr. Cardona explained to The Black Wall Street Times.
Possible Root Causes for Depression in Black Youth
Studies have shown that Black youth living in inner-city low-income neighborhoods have a higher risk of mental illness than their white counterparts. The likely cause include attending severely under-resourced schools and over-policed communities and high rates of parental unemployment.
The economic consequences due to the COVID-19 pandemic have disproportionately affected Black families. Blacks continue to experience higher rates of unemployment. According to the Brookings Institute, Black observed an increase in joblessness during the summer of 2021.
Another study published that job loss has a direct impact on the mental health of the entire family. Parents may contribute less to events at their children’s school and engage less in homework. More devastating, the strain on spousal relationships may cause arguments, negatively impacting the children. An increase in anxiety and depression can be caused by loss of benefits, inadequate health coverage, and a lack of mental health support.
Additional risk factors for mental health illness in Black youth are a history of sexual or physical abuse, or rejection because they identify as LGBTQIA+.
Parents See Decline in Children’s Mental Health
A parent poll found that 65% of parents are concerned the pandemic has impacted their child’s mental health. Notably, only 4 in 10 parents confirmed that their child’s school offers mental health support.
Parental concerns also transcend partisan lines. “85% of both Republicans and Democrats agree that funding should be provided for guidance counselors, social workers, and school psychologists to assist students with their mental health needs,” a National Parents Union September 2021 poll found.
Austin, a 13-year-old middle school student living in Tulsa, said she’d feel comfortable speaking to a mental health therapist at school. She also made clear that she wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing personal information regarding her mental health with a teacher. Further, she said since the pandemic, student violence has been on the rise.
“I see more anger and violence. I always see kids fighting now. I have even seen teachers fighting,” Austin shared with The Black Wall Street Times.
Austin explained that before the pandemic her school never addressed the importance of mental health care. But since the arrival of the pandemic have conversations around the importance of mental health care been normalized in her school.
“I think after the pandemic, people realized that isolation really can take a toll on you and your mental health,” she added.
Combating the damage isolation has done on students’ mental health is a top priority for Dr. Cardona.
“As a father myself, and as a lifelong educator, I can tell you, our students were impacted. They’re resilient, but they’ve experienced a lot in the last year and a half. So all students should be connected into a bigger group. They were locked in their rooms for so long,” Cordona said.
“They need to be engaged with others. And they need to have mental health support available to them,” Dr. Cardona further explained.
Oklahoma State Department of Education Recognized by Dr. Cardona’s Plan for having Best Practices
Oklahoma was one of several state education departments across the country putting federal dollars to equitable use.
To help Oklahoma schools meet students’ mental health needs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oklahoma State Department of Education awarded $35 million in grants to 181 school districts across the state. The funds are part of the $122 billion in federal dollars. The Oklahoma School Counselor Corps grants provide funding for both inner-city and rural schools to hire additional school counselors and school-based mental health professionals.
“Schools have wrestled with inadequate numbers of counselors and mental health professionals for far too long,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister.
One Tulsa Public School principal said she’s already seeing a positive impact on our students with the additional funding. Tulsa Legacy was able to hire additional school counselors and mental health support with Oklahoma School Counselor Corps grant funding.
“We were able to hire additional support. So instead of having a one person team, we have multiple people addressing our students social, emotional, behavioral and mental health needs. We now have a proactive and preemptive approach,” Principal Kiana Smith of Tulsa Legacy told The Black Wall Street Times.