The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the psychosocial status of youth of color is highlighted in several recent national reports, along with recommendations for actions.
The CDC Adolescent Behaviors and Experiences Survey (ABES) found elevated levels of emotional distress among high school teens with 44.3% reporting persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Over half (55%) of teens said they experienced emotional abuse from a parent or caregiver and 11.3% reported suffering physical abuse. Nine percent of students reported a suicide attempt and 20% considered suicide. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens and female teens reported higher levels of poor mental health, emotional abuse by a parent or caregiver, and suicide attempts.
Many students reported experiences of racism at school. More than 40% of Hispanic students, more than 50% of Black and students of multiple races, and more than 60% of Asian students felt they had been treated badly or unfairly at school because of their race or ethnicity (compared to just over 20% of white students). Students who reported racism were also more likely to experience poor mental health and less likely to feel connected to people at school, the ABES report notes. Asian, Black, and Hispanic students are significantly less likely than white students to say they feel close to people at their school. Students of color (AI/AN 7%, Asian 4%, Black 6%, Hispanic 5%) were less likely than white students (10%) to receive mental health care via telemedicine during the pandemic.
The high levels of stress among young people and their families underscore the need for mental health support in schools and workplaces.
The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory, Protecting Youth Mental Health, documented the decline in mental health among young people during the pandemic which has been driven by environmental risk factors. Among them are living in an urban area or an area with more severe COVID-19 outbreaks; having a parent or caregiver who is a frontline worker; experiencing more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs); contending with more instability in financial status, food access, and housing; and losing a family member or caregiver to COVID-19. As of March 2022, more than 200,000 children under 18 lost a parent or other in-home caregiver to COVID-19. Children and youth of color lost caregiving adults at higher rates than their white peers. American Indian and Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander children lost caregivers at about 3.5 times the rate of white children; Black and Hispanic children at nearly 2 times the rate of white children; and Asian children at 1.4 times that of white children.(1) Mental health risks were compounded by isolation and disruption in education associated with having limited internet access and language barriers to accessing healthcare in immigrant families. The Advisory outlines an extensive series of actions to address youth mental health, including recommendations for educators, health care professionals, media organizations, community organizations, employers, parents, youth, and others.
Communities of color have been under-treated for their mental health needs. As part of a broad mental health strategy announced by President Biden in his State of the Union Address, the Administration aims to strengthen the mental health system in a number of ways that will benefit young people of color. In order to facilitate access to and availability of mental health care, the strategy calls for increasing the supply and diversity of the mental health workforce and fostering the provision of culturally appropriate and affirming care. Training a diverse group of community health workers can expand access to behavioral health services in underserved communities and provide jobs for young people.
Another important aspect of access to care is the response to those experiencing a mental health crisis. Given the frequency of traumatic experiences and the tragic criminalization of mental illness in communities of color, the new nationwide “988” crisis response line, which the Biden Administration will launch this summer, can help improve response to the mental health needs and safety of young people of color experiencing crises. Expanding access to telehealth, a safe and effective type of mental health service that has reduced barriers to care, can also be highly beneficial for young people of color. Expanding access to mental health support in schools, colleges, and universities will benefit young people of color. Ultimately, President Biden’s national mental health strategy seeks to address mental health in a holistic and equitable way helping young people of color achieve optimal mental health and rewarding futures.
To address the challenges outlined in these reports, and in line with their recommendations, The Steve Fund will continue its focus on expanding mental health support to young people of color in schools, colleges, and universities, and in the workplace, along with a variety of other initiatives. 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 and understanding about mental health, mental illness, self-care, and the importance of help-seeking when needed.
The Steve Fund also works in partnership with its Community of Action, including educators, employers, mental health professionals, families, and young people of color, to advance our programs, resources, mental health supports, and research. Recent initiatives include working with medical students of color, working directly with families of color to help them decrease stigma and increase access for their youth; and offering grief and loss workshops for teens. We continue to work with educational institutions through implementation of our Equity in Mental Health on Campus framework.
- Source: Hidden Pain: Children Who Lost a Parent or Caregiver to COVID-19 and What the Nation Can do to Help Them. March 2022 COVID Collaborative. https://www.covidcollaborative.us/initiatives/hidden-pain
Key Data and Recommendations from the reports
The report documents a broad range of impacts on youth’s daily lives, including difficulties, family economic impacts, hunger, and abuse in the home.
- Students of color were more likely than white to report hunger; Black students were most likely to report hunger, with nearly a third reporting that there was not enough food in their home during the pandemic.
- Asian, Black, and Hispanic students are significantly less likely than white students to say they feel close to people at their school.
- More than 40% of Hispanic students, more than 50% of Black and students of multiple races, and more than 60% of Asian students felt they had been treated badly or unfairly at school because of their race or ethnicity (compared to just over 20% of white students).
- Students who reported racism were also more likely to experience poor mental health and less likely to feel connected to people at school. [note: this statement is directly from CDC summary]
- Students of color were significantly less likely than white students to receive mental health care via telemedicine during the pandemic (AI/AN 7%, Asian 4%, Black 6%, Hispanic 5%, white 10%).
Among the many components of the strategy, it aims to
- Facilitate access to and availability of mental health care.
- Increase the supply and diversity of the mental health workforce.
- Foster the provision of culturally appropriate and affirming care.
- Implementation of the new nationwide “988” crisis response line.
- Expand access to telehealth, a safe and effective type of mental health service that has reduced barriers to care.
- Expand access to mental health support in schools and higher education institutions.
U.S. Surgeon General Advisory Protecting Youth Mental Health
The advisory presents many recommendations to help protect youth mental health, including
- Address the unique mental health needs of at-risk youth, such as racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ youth, and youth with disabilities.
- Use trauma-informed care principles and other prevention strategies.
- Identify and address the mental health needs of parents, caregivers, and other family members.
- Educate the public about the importance of mental health, and reduce negative stereotypes, bias, and stigma around mental illness.
- Elevate the voices of children, young people, and their families.