Opinion: Gov. Hochul, make the mental health of Black and Brown youth a priority


November 17, 2022

By Sara Taylor and Dr. Gloria Ellis

Across the state, rates of suicide, depression and anxiety among kids are soaring. New York’s mental health system is at its breaking point — and families are pleading for help.

This is a crisis Gov. Hochul cannot ignore in her first full term. New York’s children are facing a mental health emergency, and Black and Brown families are bearing the brunt.

Even before the pandemic, suicide rates among Black youth were climbing faster than in any other racial group, surging by 60% among Black males 10 to 19 years old. At the height of the pandemic, Black children were twice as likely to experience the death of a parent or caregiver, and opioid overdose death rates for Black residents rose fivefold between 2010 and 2020.

Our communities desperately need more resources, and a copy-and-paste approach won’t work. We need a targeted and intentional response that prioritizes equity, elevates the voices of Black and Brown mothers and children and meets communities where they are.

We know the pain countless families of color face. From Rochester to Long Island, parents are suffering in silence because they can’t — or don’t — seek the care their children deserve. In addition to a severe lack of access to resources, systemic racism has created mistrust in the health-care system and stigmatization across communities of color. Families also fear our system will criminalize their children, or worse.

A one-size-fits-all approach isn’t enough. Hochul should make it one of her top priorities to elevate the voices of Black and Brown parents and caregivers. She should lift them up beyond check-the-box advisory boards and task forces and prove she values their lived experience as experts.

New York must also destigmatize mental illness and equitably distribute resources to our communities. Culturally relevant access points — like barber shops and churches, which are essential institutions in communities of color — are proven and effective tools that deliver resources directly to Black and Brown families where they’re most comfortable.

These access points were essential in Buffalo earlier this year. After the mass shooting at a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood, local health officials tapped their network of Black mental health counselors to respond to the community’s ongoing trauma, tear down barriers to access and reduce the stigma associated with mental health.

Staffing shortages have led to clinic closures and waitlists in the hundreds, forcing desperate families to wait months and months for urgently needed care. Proven initiatives like loan forgiveness, scholarship programs, and tuition remission for people pursuing a career in children’s behavioral health — with particular enhancements for students of color — could dramatically increase the quality of care.

Our state must also fund a full continuum of essential care, from prevention to all levels of intervention, to help maintain and strengthen the availability of care for families across the state.

For the sake of the Black and Brown children across New York state, let’s meet people where they are. Let’s build an equitable approach and ensure every New York child has access to the support and resources they need to thrive.

For too long, Black and Brown communities have not been seen as a priority. Gov. Hochul can change that.

Taylor is the founder and director of BIPOC PEEEEEEK Parent Mental Health project in Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse. Ellis is the president of the Black Psychiatrists of Greater New York.

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