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Limited access to mental health services requires holistic approach to loving on our Black babies

by Tanesha Peeples
mental health services
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Most times, subtle signs of trauma and even cries for help present themselves in the most inconspicuous ways. With a lack of mental health services in many communities, if we’re not paying attention, we can miss them. 

The other day I figured I’d stop by my nephews’ Facebook walls to let them know I loved them. We’re a family full of Cancers. (the Zodiac sign known for being loving and nurturing). So, it’s not unusual for us to be all mushy on social media. 

Under the “I love you” post on my oldest nephew’s page, one of my little cousins asked, “Did something happen to him?” and that immediately broke my heart because, to me, that’s a trauma response.

My little cousin is a 15-year-old Black boy, sweet as can be, and he spent a lot of time with my nephews during his childhood. For him to assume that something bad may have happened to someone he looked up to because of a loving social media post is problematic. 

mental health budget

Behavioral health professionals and paramedics on Street Crisis Response Teams are handling non-violent mental health calls instead of police under a San Francisco Department of Public Health pilot program. (Courtesy San Francisco Fire Department Mental Health Services via Twitter)

We need to outwardly express love to our loved ones

Let me get this out the way real quick–y’all, we have to normalize telling our people we love them, especially our young ones, especially considering the lack of mental health services in our communities. It speaks to the saying, “Give people their flowers while they’re here”.  Time is limited, life is too short and no one can say, “I’ll wait until tomorrow to hug that person, kiss that person, tell that person I love them” because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.

On a deeper level, it’s not my little cousin’s fault for assuming something bad happened, nor is it an uncommon response or reaction for most Black boys or girls. It’s a symptom of growing up in a world that’s committed to murdering their spirits. But, we have to be mindful of how those symptoms manifest themselves in their development and behavior. We must counteract the symptoms with healing and love.

According to the Better Health Channel, some of the ways youth react to trauma are by overreacting to minor irritations, displaying an increased need for independence and similar to the situation above, displaying overprotectiveness with loved ones. The site also mentioned youth have strong emotions such as sadness, anger, anxiety and guilt.

Loss influences behavior

Supporting the aforementioned diagnosis is an article published by The Atlantic last year that highlighted the effects of living in poor, segregated communities. 

Over the course of three years, a researcher interviewed about 165 Black males in high school and up to the age of 24. What the researcher noticed was “chronologies of loss” that influenced behavior. But without this context, our boys are labeled as aggressive, special needs, truant, etc. and penalized with punishment, particularly in the school and juvenile justice systems.

Similarly, Black girls internalize their pain more and are potentially prone to self-harm due to untreated trauma. And worse, the stress caused by trauma has been known to lead to chronic illnesses such as heart disease and hypertension, which are prevalent in the Black community. Meanwhile, mental health services aren’t.

Show love while they’re here

With limited access to mental health services in most low-income communities, more than telling our kids we love them, we also have to normalize showing them.

Showing our kids love is investing in their healing, holistically. Minimally, checking in with them to see how they’re doing. Affirming their existence and congratulating them on their achievements. Doing fun or peaceful activities outside of the environment that causes the trauma. Involving them in extracurricular activities that help relieve stress. Whatever makes them smile and brings them genuine joy is probably a viable option.

I know we love our babies but we’re raising some them in environments that aren’t too kind and harmful to their spirits. The best and most we can do for them is help them see beyond the trauma with radical love.

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