Ground Control Parenting – Carol Sutton Lewis

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Ages 13-15

Saving Our Sons: Helping Them Cope with Mental Health Issues

The stigma of talking about mental health issues is alive and well in the Black community. We’ve heard the comments: “Black people don’t do therapy”, “Nothing wrong with that boy that a little __________ (spanking, time out, grounding, fill in the blank) won’t fix”, and even “Black people don’t commit suicide”. But recent stats show we need to be seriously focused on mental health issues, especially when it comes to our children.

A 2015 American Medical Association study found that for the first time, the suicide rate of black children between the ages of 5 and 11 had doubled between 1993 and 2013 — while the rate among white children had declined. Suicides by hanging nearly tripled among black boys in particular.The most recent census data found that 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.

Suicide is not the only thing parents need to be mindful of. According to the Child Mind Institute, mental health disorders are the most common diseases of childhood, and they include anxiety, ADHD, depression, and eating disorders. Still not convinced that we parents need to pay attention to this? In a recent interview with Complex magazine, Chance the Rapper (the recent Grammy winner who is one of the hottest rappers out there) had this to say when asked if he had anxiety:

Yeah, definitely. But I don’t know if it’s necessarily more than anybody else in the world. I think anxiety is also something that I’m just now being exposed to. A really big conversation and idea that I’m getting introduced to right now is black mental health. ‘Cause for a long time that wasn’t a thing that we talked about. I don’t remember it. I don’t remember people talking about anxiety; I don’t remember, when I was growing up, that really being a thing. Now I’m starting to get a better understanding of that part of my life…

Kudos to Chance the Rapper for being candid and honest about the struggles that many of us face. Here’s hoping that this will encourage young people to talk more about their mental health issues so they can get treatment.

So what can we parents do to help our children who may be suffering? In a recent Ebony article on Black Teen suicide, Dr. Summer Matheson offers parents advice as to how to be aware and helpful. While her comments are specifically focused on suicide prevention, they are helpful with respect to many mental illness struggles:

I encourage parents to believe their teens when they express despair [or suicidal thoughts]. Open the lines of communication. Avoid feeling guilty or embarrassed. Recruit the village, the teen’s favorite teacher, grandparents, or friends, to be willing listeners. Create a safety plan barring ready access to things like pharmaceuticals or guns. Agree upon a code word that your child can use to avoid admitting to thoughts of suicide while alerting the parent that he or she is in crisis. Seek help from a mental health clinician.

That last bit of advice is very valuable: Seek help for your son or daughter if they are having trouble coping. Parents, put aside any fears or biases against talking to strangers about problems. Don’t rely solely on the church to help your children find peace of mind. Find a doctor who specializes in mental health issues. Where to find one? If you can’t get any referrals from friends, check out AfricanAmericanTherapists.com for recommendations.

This issue is near and dear to GCP. I grew up with an older brother who suffered from mental health issues which began in his childhood many years ago. I saw firsthand how hard it was for him to get and accept treatment, and how tough it was for those of us who loved him to understand his plight. We need to make sure these days that we are focused on raising mentally healthy sons and daughters and doing everything we can to help them stay that way.

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