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1 year ago

Detroit town hall: Listening is first step to address Black boys' mental health issues

The Children's Center decided to start by focusing on Black male youth because data shows that they are in crisis, Winn said.

Black youth in the United States are at higher risk for suicide, depression and other mental health problems but are less likely to seek treatment compared with other demographics, according to the American Psychological Association.

A panel composed of mental health experts, community leaders and community members, including young people and parents, discussed ways to make changes in the life trajectory of Black boys in Detroit and Wayne County.

"Our goal is to make Detroit the greatest city in the U.S. to raise Black boys," said Kelvin Brown, a recruiter for The Children’s Center Young Adult Self Sufficiency Program. "We want society to see the full picture and potential that Black boys have."

A lot of adults don't understand mental health or that it takes time to overcome mental health issues, said Nehemiyah Coles, a member of the youth advisory council at the Children's Center.

"They don't understand that it's not something I'm going over just like that. It's something that you get over, over time and talking about your feelings with people you really care about," Coles said. "Just taking your child to therapy isn't the only thing that's going to help."

Young people experiencing mental health issues often feel unheard and that adults and parents don't listen to them, Stallworth, a senior at Mumford High School in Detroit, said. One of the biggest obstacles that young people face is adults who think they don't know what they're talking about, Stallworth said.

"Many adults have antiquated ideas about mental health. ... We have a lot of ideas about mental health, like suck it up. Be a man. You're strong, you're an adult, you can take it," Stallworth said. "We shouldn't be looking at it like that anymore."

Mental health is not talked about enough in Black communities, said Kevin Fischer, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Health – Michigan.

"Mental illness does not discriminate but neither does stigma," Fischer said. "The stigma associated with mental illness varies by community and culture. ... We've got to work on stigma from the inside out. We have to stop denying ourselves a higher quality of life."

Before panelist Alyssa Heard's 16-year-old son was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder she didn't know it was a real thing. She is most concerned about what will happen when he becomes an adult because adult mental health resources and support are often more limited than what is available for adolescents.

"What I would like to see is a reconnect for our youth that transitions out. ... Just because they're 18 and 19 years old, does not necessarily mean they're adults and can handle all of the things," Heard said. "I would like to see more investment in mental health that prioritizes and centers Black boys and Black families."

Heather Boone is a pastor in Monroe and helps operate a homeless shelter called Oaks Village. Boone attended the town hall and said that many young people transitioning into adulthood end up in their homeless shelter and feel lost. She asked the panelists for advice on how to help these young people.

"When kids get older, so when they're coming out the system ... that's what we see in our homeless shelter the most," Boone said. "What happens is those young people will say, 'Man, I'm not going to the doctor anymore.' And those parents can't do anything."

The stigma surrounding taking medication for mental illness in the Black community must be addressed, Matthews said.

"It is not necessarily bad to have to take medication, you know, to get your needs met," Matthews said. "'You just want to dope up my kid,' I've heard parents say it all the time. ... Sometimes meds are needed."

LaTricia Mitchell, a clinical social work student at Wayne State University, attended the town hall and said the language used to talk to and about children needs to change.

"We talk about their behaviors and not what they have been through and it is critically important to ask these people, to ask our young people, to ask children, what is life like for you?" Mitchell said. "(Black boys) see themselves as problems because the world speaks to them as if they are a problem."

In the past, the church has perpetuated stigma surrounding mental health in the past, said Antoine Jackson, a panelist and youth pastor at the Greater Mitchell Temple COGIC. The church must deal with the harm it has caused and work to become a hub for resources that families can use, Jackson said.

"The church has to step up on its responsibility and I've got to be very specific here, the Black church has to step up and be accountable on its harm that it's caused and then let's correct course," Jackson said.

Partnerships between community organizations are also key in addressing the mental health crisis. Focus: HOPE, a Detroit-based organization dedicated to fighting racism, poverty and injustice, has partnered with the Children's Center to help provide families and children access to therapists and other mental health services.

"We are not experts in mental health at all," said Waymond Hayes, a panelist and director of Early Childhood at Focus: Hope. "It's really important for organizations to really look at what's their strength and partner with someone else who are stronger."

Action can also be taken at the state level, Fischer said. He called on town hall attendees to reach out to their state legislators and ask them to provide funding for a statewide crisis intervention team coordinator's office. The Detroit Wayne integrated health network has already partnered with law enforcement agencies throughout the county to provide officers with crisis intervention training, Fischer said.

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