This past week, I attended the Minority Mental Health Conference and learned a few things about the state of disparities in our community. Three statistics stood out to me:
1. African American children are 20% less likely to receive treatment for depression.
2. African American children are 30% more likely to attempt suicide during high school years.
3. Children who are American Indian, African American, or two or more races are over-represented in out of home care.
I see these numbers and facts and I can’t help but to feel deflated. My life has been shaped by all of the things and lessons my parents and grandparents provided me with. My father always taught me that, “A human was a human, no matter the color or culture.” We all share the same feelings and go through the same problems. I was lucky enough to have all the tools necessary to work through my difficulties. Thinking about these kids growing up without accessing treatment for their ailments or attempting to end their life, I can’t help but wonder what it is that we are missing from our schools and/or communities that could benefit families in need of help.
Child psychiatrist and advocate for health development in youth, Dr. James Comer, helped to explain. During his keynote delivery, he told a story of three little boys who all attended the same school, had the same teacher, and were all equally as bright. Two of the boys caused trouble in the classroom, bullied other students, and talked back to the teacher. Once out of school, one was incarcerated and the other became homeless. The third boy, well, he became a doctor – Dr. James Comer. How did he end up with such a different future? Dr. Comer went on to explain how kids should not be so easily dispersed into two categories: smart and not-so-smart. All kids want the chance to learn and become something. We need to tend to the kids that are acting out to give them the same opportunities as the other children. Looking back on his two friends, Dr. Comer noted that without the support, love, and time from his family and schoolteacher, he would have had the same fate. Today, his work is aimed at helping all kids in the school setting by training schools to better handle children from all backgrounds.
During the one of the breakout sessions, speaker Tiffany White-Welchen from Charles Drew Health Center talked about biases present in our society and how they can affect children. The group worked interactively to point out common biases and figure out why we have them in the first place (Where did we learn these things? Who taught us to think like that?). It’s amazing how many different opinions we have of certain cultures or ethnicities. Television, movies, and other mainstream media can all feed our opinions and shape the way we view the world. Once we recognize what views we hold, we can begin to see people at face value, work through the bias, and suspend our judgement.
While I learned a lot about my own personal biases, I also learned what to do if I find myself in a situation when my bias may interfere? It is important to know what biases you hold so you can see past them. Having an open dialogue about a bias is always best, no matter who you are speaking with. Humans appreciate honesty and even children can identify when someone is being insincere. Truth can shine through with your words as well as your body language. Eye contact, pace of conversation, stance or the plane to which you are speaking on are all quality components that need to stay neutral. With a child, you may have to adjust to talk to them on their level as to not threaten them or make them feel like they are in trouble.
To receive information about next year’s Minority Mental Health Conference, stay updated www.chdomaha.org
Minority Mental Health Conference: The Mind of Child – Partnerships, Policy and Positive Noise for Children’s Behavioral Health; Sheri Dawson, Dr. James Comer, Tiffany White-Welchen.
Janae Shillito, Project Coordinator, The Kim Foundation
Janae Shillito is the newest edition to The Kim Foundation and serves as Project Coordinator. She holds two science degrees with her alma maters including the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Janae’s love of volunteering and helping those without a voice created a strong desire to become a part of the non-profit world. She enjoys instructing kickboxing classes, reading a good book, and being outside with her husband, Cory, and Rottweiler, Hank.