Black Teenagers and Mental Health Counseling

Sad young black woman portrait feeling negative emotions; Portrait of black girl suffering solitude and depression
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I’ve been a community mental health counselor and youth mentor since 1995. A lot has changed in mental health over the years…but the one thing that hasn’t changed is the simple fact that: people are people. No matter what grade or shade they are, everyone needs to know what they’re good at. They need to feel safe to live. They need to feel like someone cares about them—that they matter and that they belong.

When this doesn’t happen consistently, people begin to break down. When this break down happens in individuals, it affects their families, which affect their neighborhoods and communities, and ultimately, it affects the culture; I believe that that’s where we are right now. In our culture, we’re at a very dangerous place right now where we can’t be silent. We must act!

Apparently this issue has reached a tipping point where it must be addressed—and not just by individuals, but by governments. To that effect, on March 21 2022, a little less than a year and a half ago, the American Psychological Association (APA) joined Sound the Alarm for Kids and the Congressional Black Caucus to inform policymakers of the psychological impact of social determinants of health on Black child and adolescent mental health.

Lack of Treatment and Providers

They concluded that “Black youth in the United States experience significant illness, poverty, and discrimination. These issues put them at higher risk for suicide, depression, and other mental health problems. Yet Black youth are less likely to seek treatment due to stigmas well as structural issues such as the lack of readily available, culturally appropriate, and evidence-based early intervention and a severe shortage of diverse mental health professionals.”

If you want to spend some time educating yourself about the issues and solutions, you can read the official report and watch the webinar meeting.

I find it interesting that as a group, Black teenagers have reached such a crisis in their mental health that the government has realized that they can no longer turn a blind eye to it and must work to set them free from the oppressive chains that bind them. But, why is the government doing this and what is the church’s response?

Well, simply put, in my experience, as not only a community mental health counselor, but as a recovering addict, myself, unfortunately, the church’s response to the African American youth mental health crisis has been dismal. Typically the church’s response to mental health issues is one of blissful and willful ignorance and embarrassment, where others refuse to actually acknowledge and address the core issues; or the pendulum swings wildly to the other extreme, resulting in a response filled with anger, resentment, and frustration that youth are dealing with these issues.

 

At either extremes lies the lack of discernment that people are people and just because someone is a Christian, doesn’t mean that they won’t have mental health issues—and sometimes they’ll be serious ones. It’s okay to love Jesus—and your Therapist, too.
Jesus, when introducing Himself and His ministry to an expectant God-saturated church culture, but relationship-dry church, received a less-than enthusiastic response:

“Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them.

“The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. “How can this be?” they asked. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

Then he said, “You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown. “Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. And many in Israel had leprosy in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.” When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff, but he passed right through the crowd and went on his way” (Luke 4:14-30, NLT).

As Christians it is our job to set the captives free. But how do we do that?

Practice Tips for Helping Our Youth

Well, simply put, we can do that in three different ways:

1. making sure that we are staying truly connected to and grounded in our relationship with Jesus
2. by connecting with youth in authentic, accepting, real, and loving ways
3. by advocating for them in ways that will make a real and lasting positive change for them. This, of course means advocating for them within the church setting, but it may mean taking it a step further, and seeking to advocate for them within other significant societal structures, like schools and local, state, and federal governments.

As Christians, we need to be warned that when we seek to do that, there will be many who will be resistant to our efforts. Just like people were resistant to accepting Jesus when he tried to set people free, we will likely have similar resistance to our efforts, but we should be persistent and consistent, for there is too much to lose. “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9, NLT).

 

 

 

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