The deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and the countless others that came before have once again displayed the individual, systemic and institutional racism that exists in our society. We all have a role in addressing and correcting our history’s legacy for racism and inequality.

At Erika’s Lighthouse that means reaffirming our commitment to diversity, inclusion, acceptance and justice. Our goal is to educate young people about depression, mental illness and to promote positive mental health. However, racism and structural inequalities prevent us from ever truly achieving our mission.

Racism & Mental Health

The link between racism and mental health is clear:

  • Black Americans are 20% more likely to report psychological distress than White Americans.
  • Depression and anxiety are more persistent (longer-lasting) for Black Americans.
  • Racial and ethnic minorities experience higher rates of disability because of mental health struggles.
  • Racial and ethnic minority youth with behavioral struggles are more likely to be referred to the juvenile system than to primary care providers.

In order to destigmatize, educate and help youth struggling with mental health we need to break down the barriers impacting education, health care and access to services. Each of those have economic and racial disparities exacerbating the challenge.

Challenging Conversations

Breaking down these barriers to institute reforms will be difficult, but we must begin having uncomfortable and challenging conversations. These are conversations Erika’s Lighthouse is used to having and promoting. Here are a few tips about having them in regards to mental health and/or race:

  • Be open minded and check your privilege at the door.
  • Don’t make assumptions about any person or conversation.
  • Admit what you don’t know and ask questions.
  • Don’t expect people of color or with mental illness to answer your questions and be prepared to do your own homework.
  • If you become uncomfortable, stay engaged. Our discomfort is what helps us learn. 
  • Communicate, be open and honest.
  • No one is perfect and we are all learning together.

If you are looking for resources to better speak with children, check out the information from our partners at the Child Mind Institute

What’s Next

As a society we have work to do, and that is true of us at Erika’s Lighthouse. We are striving to be allies to our educators, parents and teens around the country. We hope these actions help:

  • All staff will take training to be anti-racist allies.
  • Our trauma-informed language will be reviewed and more heavily promoted for educators to support students impacted by racism, racial trauma and violence.
  • We will continue to support diversity and representation in our programs to reach under-served populations.

We are and will continue to be learning on this journey. The solutions are not always clear, but through purposeful, meaningful engagement we can support our family, friends, associates and community members who are people of color. There is hope and with commitment we will achieve justice.

Author: Brandon Combs, Executive Director