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Black Men Mental Wellness Series: Faith at the Nexus of the Black Youth Mental Health Epidemic

If black adults are seeing "disparities in mental health that lead to unfavorable health outcomes and increased morbidity from mental illness due to centuries of racism", as reported by the publication Lancet recently, what does that look like for our children?

If we are to believe several studies regarding the mental health of black American adolescents, not good!

Writing for Psychiatric Times, Dr. Amanda Calhoun, whose practice specializes in black adolescents, opines:

"There is still a dearth of research targeting the mental health of Black youth, even though Black youth suicide rates are rising faster than those of any other racial or ethnic group in America. Twice as many Black children as white children lost caregivers to COVID-19, while also experiencing harmful vicarious racism as they bear witness to the widely televised murders of Black people, such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor."

From feelings of hopelessness to suicide ideation, black youth 15-24 years of age (the fastest growing suicidal demographic in the black community) are carrying their own mental burdens aside from those borne by an increasing number of black adults.

The effects of a racialized society, according to studies, are happening in our children as young as five years of age.

What to do?

The faith community must offer this demographic more than bible study; it must make bible study a contextual reality and speak to the challenges this group faces daily.

The message is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The method, though, must match where they are and what they are experiencing, and lead to 'life', the kind to which Christ speaks of quite often in the New Testament and which includes the physical and spiritual and by definition the mental dimension.

Mental health forums must begin in our faith gatherings! When this happens, we can begin to clearly recognize the "habits, shifts in hygiene, mood swings, levels of irritability, agitation and changes in sleep cycles", as recommended by WordinBlack.Com

Even more important is to have frank discussions about mental health at home. Don't be afraid to ask tough questions. Probe your child's feelings about interaction with law enforcement, personal instances of racial resentment and peer group pressure (all markers for negative mental health outcomes).

We cannot - indeed must not! - wait until we hear of the tragic early deaths by suicide of celebrity children, but urgently understand that suicide ideation is happening with the kid in church, with the kid in school and with the kid down the block.

Pastor W. Eric Croomes is a Faith Influencer and Believers Coach.

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