The lingering effects of the pandemic are taking their toll on the nation’s youth, and young people of color—as is often the case—are paying the highest price.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Morgan Stanley Alliance on Children’s Mental Health, 64% of Black teens and 52% of Hispanic teens (vs. 44% white teens) expressed concern about experiencing social anxiety because of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than half (52%) of Black teens and 38% of Hispanic teens (vs. 27% white teens) are concerned about coping with trauma. Black teens (22%) are twice as likely as white teens (11%) to say that they do not feel comfortable speaking to anyone about their mental health.

Last month, the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, warned in a national advisory that the mental health crisis for young people in America, in particular young people of color from historically marginalized communities, is being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. A Surgeon General’s Advisory is a public statement that calls the American people’s attention to an urgent public health issue and provides recommendations for how it should be addressed. Advisories are reserved for significant public health challenges that need the nation’s immediate awareness and action. His announcement lets the nation know that not only is addressing the mental health needs of our youth a concern, but it has also become a national priority.

The Steve Fund, the nation’s premier organization promoting the mental health and emotional well-being of young people of color, is committed to continuing and advancing an action agenda that aligns with the Surgeon General’s recommendations. Through our multisectoral and multicultural programs and our strategic partnerships, the Steve fund works with young people, colleges and universities, non-profits, researchers, mental health professionals, secondary school educators and administrators, families, and employers to build understanding and assistance for the mental health and emotional well-being of the nation’s young people of color.

For example, we encourage young people of color to be involved in their own mental well-being and that of their peers and friends by providing opportunities to increase their knowledge about mental health and mental illness, self-care, the importance of help-seeking when needed, and promoting peer support opportunities. The Steve Fund Youth Advisory Board (YAB) was created to engage high school and college students of color from across the nation in a discussion about mental health and emotional well-being of themselves and their peers as well as foster leadership among young people in serving as mental health advocates. The YAB member perspectives and recommendations are instrumental in shaping The Steve Fund’s goals, programming, communications, and impact.

YAB members are also the producers and hosts of the SpeakOnIt Podcast, bringing students and professionals together to discuss topics related to mental health and surmounting the challenges to emotional well-being that young people of color may face during their academic and professional careers.

Through our mental health educational workshops for high school students, called Well-Being in Color, the Steve Fund prepares teen peers to be co-facilitators with a mental health expert to engage young people their own age in discussions about mental health, mental illness, and how to access help when needed. Through our Equity in Mental Health on Campus initiative, the Steve Fund partners with higher education institutions to transform their policies, practices, services, and racial climate to make them more conducive to the mental health and well-being of students of color.

We also recognize that talking about mental health at home, especially for historically marginalized communities, may be uncomfortable or out of keeping with cultural norms. Given today’s realities, it is imperative that adult family members take the time to expand their awareness of facts about mental illness, mental health, and well-being for themselves and the young people under their care. That is why, as a partner in the Morgan Stanley Alliance for Children’s Mental Health, the Steve Fund collaborated on the development of the Reemergence program, which provides support and resources for families and educators addressing children’s mental health for the  2021-2022 school year. This multifaceted program aims to help teens re-engage successfully with school and their daily activities.

In addition, through our partnership with the National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI), the Steve Fund recently hosted a National Town Hall called Lift Every Voice: A Call to Action to Promote the Mental Health of the Black Family. Experts and advocates shared insights on mental health and mental illnesses in communities of color in the context of structural inequities, the pandemic, and the economic crisis, and discussed the full range of mental health care and psychiatric treatment options, support groups, and other resources that can foster thriving among the families of young people of color.

Through our partnerships with corporate and non-profit organizations, the Steve Fund also hosts a number of webinars and events focused on the mental health of young people of color that promote their well-being as they embark on their pathways to becoming healthy adult contributors to society.

We are strong advocates for the action-oriented recommendations in the Surgeon General’s report. We look forward to continuing and expanding the work through a community of action with our partners, sponsors, and educational institutions across the U.S. to support the mental health and emotional well-being of young people of color as they navigate these challenging times.