RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — Studies show stigma and judgment still prevent many Blacks from seeking treatment for mental illnesses. But what’s the cost? And what are the structural, institutional, and individual stressors behind it?
Two area enrichment programs for youth are leading the charge on the topic exposing societal factors impacting the mental state of Black children.
15-year-old Jena Obilas enjoys shopping and owning her style.
“I’ve been blessed with good mentors and influences in my life that have supported me just being me,” Obilas said.
But she said outside of her support network something as normal as going to the mall as a Black teen has already proved problematic.
“I went to a store for a friend’s birthday and one of the workers at the store started following me — yet she didn’t follow anyone else, which made me feel some type of way,” Obilas said. ”I felt like an outcast.”
In fact, Obilas says she’s been routinely followed around stores and subjected to other forms of racially-motivated surveillance. Behavioral health experts say it’s part of the “adultification” and dehumanization of Black girls and boys happening in society.
”What Karens and Kens are doing in the world is damaging us because now we have to move around on egg shells. We can’t move like how we actually want to move in the world,” said Paul Clark, Naji Designs videographer.
Fed up, Clark has teamed with Riviera Beach-based youth enrichment program’s Young Men of Distinction and Ladies of Distinction to put a far reaching microscope on the problem.
”If you criminalize them while they’re young, they’re not going to see another way,” Clark said. “More Black kids than you think want to be successful and doing things outside the box but the constant labels have damaging results.”
And there’s data to support it. In one American Psychological Association study Black children are judged as 4.5 years older, less innocent — and Black males are seen as more culpable of various crimes than Latinos and Whites.
”We see their full potential and we’re building a supportive village around Black children,” said Jacoby Waters, Young Men of Distinction and Ladies of Distinction founder. “We’re talking about mental health, how to do FAFSAs, financial literacy, generational wealth — and we’re mandating parents attend workshops with their children. It starts at home and it starts with the village. I’m not satisfied with the statistics.”
WPTV got a behind-the-scenes look at “Expectations versus Reality,” a social media campaign to address racial discrimination and the adverse effects on mental health.
”Unfortunately it’s like a bubble right. They’re going get filled up enough and then they’re going to pop. Just randomly,” said Clark.
Mental health is now part of both Young Men of Distinction and Ladies of Distinction programming curriculum. Data from Mental Health America shows Black teens are more likely to attempt suicide than their White peers (9% vs. 6%).
“We need to speak life (into our youth) and let them know you’re not alone in this journey,” Sonia Gilbert, a concerned parent
And already, Obilas sees it. In a few years she plans to annihilate stigma and stereotypes as a psychologist.
”Mental health really isn’t discussed in our community and it’s really ignored,” Obilas said. ”I want to help my generation.”
Aspirations this team hopes goes viral.
Applications are still being accepted for both Young Men of Distinction and Ladies of Distinction. Both are open to Palm Beach County youth age seven to 18. There is an initial interview session that must be attended. And parents and youth must commit to attend weekly workshops and group activities. To learn more, visit here: https://youngmenofdistinction.org/ And here: https://youngmenofdistinction.org/ladies-of-distinction/
Resources and facts on mental health in the Black community can be found, here: https://www.mhanational.org/issues/black-and-african-american-communities-and-mental-health.