Health, Wellness, and Fitness
by Tiffany Caesar
Why don’t we talk about it? There are signs in our children’s behavior, then comments by their teachers, and stares from our neighbors. Matter of fact, within the black community, “it” is as taboo as taking your dirty laundry to the streets. Yet, I am going to reveal it — our Black children are susceptible to mental illnesses just like any other person in the world.
Particularly within the Black community, mental health issues are silenced. We have all these verbal codes that describe mental health issues like, “He just acts like that…,” but with little-to-no follow-up action. Currently, our children are being unnoticed and undiagnosed, leaving them to deal with the negative effects of mental health challenges by themselves.
There are various mental health issues that children may experience. Some of the common ones are Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and affective mood disorders, which include depression and bipolar and anxiety disorders among others. The list is extensive. Symptoms vary depending on the diagnosis, from anger outbursts, changes in sleeping and eating habits, to withdrawal from social activities. Go to your nearest mental health professional or primary doctor to get a mental health screening if you see signs in your child. Also, there are numerous sources online like WebMed and the National Institute of Mental Health that can provide initial guidance.
Parents Ignoring Mental Health
Parents sometimes ignore mental health issues in their children because they have not addressed their own. Children tend to adopt the behaviors of their parents. If you are a parent not dealing with your own trauma, then you may pass down this coping style and trauma to your child. Your mental health as a parent is a biological, psychosocial, and environmental risk for your child. As a parent, you have to take care of yourself and not be negligent of your own mental health. Seek professional help immediately. Also, it is a good idea to get a mental health check along with your bi-annual doctor’s visit.
Particularly within the Black community, mental health issues are silenced. We have all these verbal codes that describe mental health issues like, “He just acts like that…,” but then little-to-no follow-up action.
Another reason parents ignore mental health issues in children is that there is a Black cultural fear of doctors. Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington discusses many cases within American history where the Black body was used for experiments and exploited for major medical research. She believes this history contributes to latrophobia, a term that means, “a deep-seated fear and aversion towards medical establishments.” The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment is one of the most iconic examples of racialized medical abuse. In order to avoid latrophobia, take time to do your research on a physician. Websites like Zocdoc.com allow you to see patient reviews of primary care doctors. If you are interested in more culturally embedded medical issues, I also recommend researching Dr. Joy Degruy’s book, Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome, which addresses the residual impacts of slavery when it comes to exploring generational mental issues.
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Talk To Your Child
Children must be made aware of the mental health process. Sometimes there is a repetitive statement that adults like to say, “They’re too young…” We use this phrase to avoid difficult conversations with our children. However, we must remember that children are wise and capable beings. Don’t deny them knowledge concerning their mental health. Tell your child that a mental health check is a normal part of a healthy routine. Desensitize the topic by allowing your child to ask questions. If you find out your child is diagnosed with a mental illness, tell your child in the most loving way and emphasize your support through this difficult time.
Some mental health diagnoses are first noticed in schools due to the way educational institutions divide students. Some students have to get on the “short bus” and there is an automatic association of mental health that accompanies a child’s developmental abilities, even if that is not the case. Then, when the child goes to school, they often find themselves in the “special” class. Unfortunately, all this brings unwanted attention and in many cases, the child is bullied.
If your child informs you about derogatory behavior from students, such as bullying or you witness it, be sure to inform the child’s school immediately. There must be repercussions for the student’s actions. Every child should feel safe in his or her school.
We must reduce the stigma surrounding mental health in the Black community. Mental illness must be treated seriously in Black children. Not treating it can lead to severe health issues, including suicide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a 2015 study found “that for the first time, the suicide rate of Black children between the ages of five and 11 had doubled between 1993 and 2013 — while the rate among White children had declined.” According to the United States census, “Black youth are killing themselves far more frequently than their elders — and suicide has become the third leading cause of death among Black people between the ages of 15 and 24.”
Let’s replace being afraid of it, with mental health awareness instead, and let’s talk about it! In addition, there must be continued advocacy for a holistic treatment that addresses the mind, body, and soul. Some immediate remedies include counseling, exercise, and spiritual maintenance. There is nothing wrong with seeking professional help. We have a duty to our children to speak up; it is the only way we can truly heal and stop the silencing of mental health awareness.
Mental Health Advocate, African-Centered Educator, Black Cultural Critic, Black Woman Writer, and Overall Spirit-Led.
Black Sheet (Census)
Children Mental Illnesses
National Institute of Mental Health
Online Mental Health Screening
Parenting and Mental Health
Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome