The COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted racial and economic disparities in young people’s access to behavioral healthcare, prompting new conversations about the mental health of our nation’s teenagers.
Marginalized young people are particularly impacted by trauma. Racism, discrimination, economic inequity, and a heightened risk of exposure to traumatic events has significantly affected the mental health of young people of color. Children of color have among the highest rates of unaddressed mental health needs and are less likely to receive mental health care. In a 2016 study, African American and Hispanic children visited a mental health professional half as often as white children.
Girls of color face specific mental health risks. Black girls are at heightened risk of suicide, which can result from exposure to stressors including sexual abuse, school discipline, and engagement with law enforcement, all of which affect girls of color at rates that are disproportionate to their white peers.
Making a difference
For over 35 years, the Pace Center for Girls has recognized the impact of race and gender on mental health, including girls’ rates of exposure to adversity and trauma. By ensuring that girls are actively included in the design of their care in both a physically and emotionally safe environment, Pace has helped more than 40,000 vulnerable girls recover from trauma to graduate from high school, go on to higher education or careers, and lead successful and fulfilling lives. By changing the stigma around mental health, we make academic success, mental and emotional wellbeing equal priorities.
More to be done
While Pace and other organizations focus on the behavioral health needs of young people with measurable impact, the needs of millions of teens still go unrecognized. We must ensure access to quality mental health services and remove the stigma associated with seeking help to address the critical mental health needs of our nation’s youth.