Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Advocates lay out measures to address youth mental health challenges in Chicago


Continued community outreach, specifically among Black and Brown communities, is crucial to addressing the rise in youth mental health challenges, advocates said Monday.

Dr. Inger Burnett-Zeigler, an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said that suicide is the second-leading cause of death for those in their teens. Rates among Black youths have increased by 60 percent in recent years, higher than any other demographic.

“Black children are nearly twice as likely to die by suicide than white children,” she said during an event hosted by the City Club of Chicago. Additionally, she said the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic only added to existing issues like gun violence and childhood abuse.

Burnett-Zeigler highlighted work done by Chicago-based groups like Youth Guidance, which serves about 13,000 young people in the region. She said she is hopeful about the growing acknowledgment of the issue, but that systemic change is necessary to address the gaps in identifying at-risk youth.

Nacole Milbrook, chief program officer at Youth Guidance, said they continue to fight against mental health stigma, specifically in Black and Brown communities.

“When many people look at youth of color who are struggling and acting out, they see somebody who’s in need of discipline — not someone who’s in need of care,” Milbrook said.

She noted data presented last month by U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy during his Chicago visit show that it takes 11 years on average from when a child first experiences symptoms of mental health struggles to when they receive help.

Outreach to young people is critical to care, which includes bringing counselors into the lives of students in “small doses every day” to earn their trust, meet their needs and connect them to services they may not otherwise be willing to try, Milbrook said.

Michelle Adler-Morrison, CEO of Youth Guidance, said they are working to reframe the conversation around mental health so it’s a strength to acknowledge one’s vulnerability and so that people know that even elite athletes and other celebrities seek help.

Additionally, she called for “bold actions.”

“I think about the responsibility we have to advance universal mental health screenings, to early identification of challenges so that young people don’t have to wait 11 years, to continue to innovate and bring healing center programs to schools that are working hard to transform the culture and climate,” Adler-Morrison said.

Watch the full event