A group of young people are leading an effort to rethink how to approach mental health for young men of color.
In collaboration with Lurie Children’s Hospital, young researchers with the racial justice organization Communities United conducted a study focused on the mental health and well-being of Black and Brown young men in Chicago. The report titled “Changing the Beat of Mental Health” identifies mental health challenges and provides recommendations on how to cope.
Key findings from the report include:
- Young men of color see a deep connection between systemic inequities and mental health, often internalizing the blame.
- Young men of color feel that systems are not built to support them, and they cannot share their full experiences and emotions without negative repercussions.
- Young men of color want to be viewed for their full identities and potential for leadership.
In total, 66% of the young men surveyed reported facing challenges with their mental health.
“We come across challenges every day, and life itself is hard on a lot of young men in general, but mostly young men of color,” said Jermal Rey, 17, one of the youth researchers.
A group of 15 young men of color ranging in age from 14-21 led the study by conducting surveys, interviews and focus groups.
“In order to transform systems we must ensure that the voices and perspectives of young people is central to the conversation. I know at a pediatric hospital the youth voice is central to the programs that we have, they inform our programs, our policies, and in order for us to have the lasting impact that we want to have with communities, it’s really important that the youth voice is elevated and prioritized,” said Renee Walker, senior director of community health initiatives and program development for the Patrick M. Magoon Institute for Healthy Communities at Lurie Children’s Hospital.
The report also identified a normalization of trauma among young men of color. Rey says the prevalence of violence in communities contributes to that normalization.
“Just coming in to a West Side area is often basically known as trouble or violence, and that’s the trauma that is implemented in those communities, so the trauma is being around the violence so much, and also that it’s normal to know that someone is being shot or someone is being killed, and making that normal is basically something that we do not want to continue to have in our communities,” Rey said.
Rey says creating spaces for young people to address and heal from trauma can improve mental health and well-being. The report highlights several recommendations for the mental health care system including bringing in more mental health professionals who are people of color.
“One of the things that we recommend is having pipeline programs for young people of color with the lived experiences that the young men identified in the report, so pipeline programs where they can get involved in becoming a mental health professional,” said Walker.
Walker says Lurie Children’s Hospital plans to continue working with Communities United to identify actionable next steps while keeping young people at the center of future projects.