Black people, including youth, are less likely to receive adequate care for mental health issues for a number of reasons: disparities in access to care, stigma about mental illness and lack of culturally competent mental health practitioners. According to a study published in the International Journal of Health Services, black children are about half as likely as white children to get mental health treatment. As the CBC task force, mental health experts and policy makers mull over ideas to address this gap, it’s also crucial that schools devote significant attention and space to mental health literacy and provide mental health services in the form of counselors and psychologists.
“Kids who don’t feel safe, engaged or supported cannot show up in schools and demonstrate what they know and have learned,” says David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization dedicated to empowering black LGBTQ and same-gender-loving communities. “In particular, those who have been terrorized by [educators’] indifference and our ignorance—and the hate that is often birthed from that—suffer and are suffocated.”
In his postgraduate work at Teachers College, Columbia University, Johns describes how schools themselves are sources of trauma for kids who are not white, cisgender or heterosexual.
Trust has to be built, though.
Another aspect of that lack of trust has to do with black communities’ historical and ongoing struggles for equal rights. On top of that, some communities must also tackle issues that are exacerbated by these inequities, such as violence, poverty and substance abuse.
In her work at Teachers College, Columbia University, Sealey-Ruiz teaches critical humility—a concept coined by a group called the European-American Collaborative Challenging Whiteness. They want white people to think about their whiteness and to use their privilege to speak up and take action against inequity.