Youth-Nex recently hosted their 8th conference entitled Pass the Mic: Amplifying Youth Voice & Agency, co-chaired by Drs. Wintre Foxworth Johnson and Nancy Deutsch.
In this Pass the Mic blog series, we are highlighting each of the sessions from the conference, sharing videos, and uplifting youth voices to summarize and reflect on what was discussed.
Kiara (a senior in High School, youth panelist and conference attendee) summarizes and reflects on the fourth session about “Health & Well-Being.”
As a High School student athlete who wants to pursue a health career, I know learning about health and well-being is essential. I truly enjoyed this panel discussion and the knowledge I obtained from these health professionals.
I felt so much inspiration when hearing from the youth about how they feel they can advocate for not only themselves but their families as well. Some of these aspects to advocate on is related to health and wellness systems, but also things like food, desserts or even being comfortable in the environment they live in.
Hearing the panelists’ ideas about having mental health professionals in schools to be able to speak with students about the things they may be experiencing in their communities was something I completely agree with.
Giving youth the opportunity to speak to someone about the things that they see everyday could be the first step to healing childhood trauma (that they would have to tackle one day in their adulthood).
I also enjoyed learning that different cultural backgrounds can have different health and well-being standards based on the history and traditions that are aligned. I definitely was able to learn different aspects of what health and well-being is, whether it is mental health resources or family resources, which truly resonated with me.
Author Bio: Kiara A. is a senior at An Achievable Dream High School in Newport News, VA where she has been in the top 10% of her class all 4 years. She is currently ranked 4th in her school graduation class of 2023. Kiara currently serves her school as An Achievable Dream HS Senior Class President and President of the An Achievable Dream Middle and High School National Honor Society. Kiara is also a member of NNPS Emerging Leader Institute, Newport News Mayors Youth Commission, An Achievable Dream HS 3.0 Club, An Achievable Dream HS Principal’s Advisory Board, SCA, NNPS Flourish Youth Empowerment Club, Heritage HS Girls Varsity Volleyball team, Captain of the Heritage HS Girls Varsity Tennis team, CNU Community Captains, National Society of High School Scholars and Hampton University Upward Bound. Kiara has participated in various panels representing her school system Newport News Public Schools and her Newport News community. She has served as a student panelist on the Aim for Impact Summer Leadership Institute and the NNPS Innovate Conference, both sponsored through Newport News Public Schools. In addition, she recently participated in a local community panel sponsored by WHRO Public Media and iHeart Radio for a community conversation on safety and school security in September 2022, which was televised locally. Kiara plans to attend college where she will be majoring in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science, where she aspires to be an athletic trainer for the NFL or a major league sports franchise.
Suicide among Black youth and young adults is a national public health crisis. However, limited research has examined contributing and protective factors of suicide among Black youth and young adults (this is especially relevant in light of September being Suicide Prevention Awareness Month).
Recent research suggests symptoms of depression are associated with greater suicidal ideation for Black young adults, but that self-acceptance may buffer this association.
In this blog, read more about these findings and what you can do to help address the crisis of Black youth suicide.
Suicide is a major public health concern among all age groups. However, with increases in social media use, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and self-inflicted injuries, suicidal thoughts and behaviors among youth and youth adults are of particular concern1,2. Importantly, analysis of the CDC’s national 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey reveal that suicide among Black youth has increased at an alarming rate, faster than any other racial or ethnic group3. Findings suggest that suicide attempts have risen 73% between 1991 and 2017 for Black adolescents, and injuries from suicide attempts have risen 122% for Black adolescent boys over the same time period3. As a result, research investigating how suicide risk develops, and can be prevented, among Black youth is warranted.
The Role of Depression and Self-Acceptance
Previous research suggests that depression is a robust risk factor for suicide; however, Black Americans remain largely underrepresented in these studies. In our new study, published in the Journal of Black Psychology, we examined the association between symptoms of depression and suicide ideation among Black young adults, as well as the potential buffering role of self-acceptance.
Our study found that elevated symptoms of depression were associated with increased suicide ideation. Potential explanations of the pathway between depression and suicide for Black young adults include exposure to racism-related stressors, hopelessness, diminished psychological functioning, and impaired coping skills4-6. Importantly, we found that for Black young adults who reported higher levels of self-acceptance (i.e., positive and realistic attitudes toward the self), symptoms of depression were not associated with suicidal ideation. This finding suggests that holding positive attitudes towards oneself protects against external influences that may lead to psychological distress. Moreover, this finding suggests that assisting Black young adults in cultivating increased feelings of self-worth may lead to a reduction in risk for suicidal ideation.
How to Support Black Youth
Youth suicide is preventable. Suicide rates for Black youth and young adults can be substantially reduced through the following recommendations:
Learn the signs and symptoms of suicide risk. If you or someone you know is suicidal, get help immediately via calling or texting the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or the Crisis Text Line (text “HOME” to741741).
For parents, talk and listen to your child. Affirm their feelings and foster an accepting and welcoming environment to discuss mental health and well-being. Keep learning new strategies on how to check in on your child’s mental health.
For teachers, foster supportive, warm, and inclusive classroom environments and maintain positive connections to Black students.
For providers, screen for depression in primary care settings. Furthermore, we can work together to design and implement more race-conscious and culturally responsive suicide interventions targeting specific risk factors among Black youth.
Help break the stigma that exists surrounding suicidal thoughts and behaviors by: 1) bringing awareness to (and helping to reduce) the use of stigmatizing language surrounding suicide, 2) educate your family, friends, and colleagues about the unique experiences and challenges of mental health within the Black community, and 3) take steps to address our own implicit biases and any assumptions we may have surrounding suicide and mental health.
 Miron, O., Yu, K. H., Wilf-Miron, R., & Kohane, I. S. (2019). Suicide rates among adolescents and young adults in the United States, 2000-2017. JAMA, 321(23), 2362-2364.
 Mercado, M. C., Holland, K., Leemis, R. W., Stone, D. M., & Wang, J. (2017). Trends in emergency department visits for nonfatal self-inflicted injuries among youth aged 10 to 24 years in the United States, 2001-2015. JAMA, 318(19), 1931-1933.
 Lindsey, M. A., Sheftall, A. H., Xiao, Y., & Joe, S. (2019). Trends of suicidal behaviors among high school students in the United States: 1991–2017. Pediatrics, 144(5).
 Nrugham, L., Holen, A., & Sund, A. M. (2012). Suicide attempters and repeaters: Depression and coping a prospective study of early adolescents followed up as young adults. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 200(3), 197-203.
 Abramson, L. Y., Alloy, L. B., Hogan, M. E., Whitehouse, W. G., Gibb, B. E., Hankin, B. L., & Cornette, M. M. (2002). The hopelessness theory of suicidality. In Suicide science (pp. 17-32). Springer, Boston, MA.
 Walker, R. L., Salami, T. K., Carter, S. E., & Flowers, K. (2014). Perceived racism and suicide ideation: Mediating role of depression but moderating role of religiosity among African American adults. Suicide and Life‐Threatening Behavior, 44(5), 548-559.
Author Bio: Jasmin R. Brooks, M.A. is a doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology at the University of Houston. Her research interests include evaluating how sociocultural risk (e.g., racial discrimination) and protective (e.g., mindfulness, racial identity) factors influence suicidality and mental health for Black populations. She aims to apply her research to the development of clinical interventions that reduce racial stress and promote psychological well-being within Black and other marginalized communities. Jasmin also maintains a strong commitment to being active in her community through mentoring, non-profit work, and creating a podcast, We Had the Talk. If you are interested in learning more about Jasmin’s work you may visit her website at: https://jasminbrooks.com/, follow her on Twitter at: @__JasminBrooks, or email her at email@example.com.
Attachment styles have been shown to shape mental health, but almost no research has examined the experiences of Black teens (this is especially important in light of BIPOC Mental Health Month).
Our new research reveals that Black teens experience more racism in their neighborhoods, and those experiences of racism are associated with greater attachment avoidance (discomfort with emotional closeness) and with elevated depressive symptoms in the early teen years.
We also explore other findings, including how attachment avoidance predicted increases in depressive symptoms over time, but only for teens who identified as White; avoidance was not a risk factor for teens who identified as Black.
Think back to your teenage years: Was it a happy time in your life, or did you struggle with feelings of depression? Did you lean on your close friends or family members for support, or did you deal with your feelings by yourself? And did you ever experience racial discrimination in your neighborhood?
We put these questions to teens themselves to uncover how race, racism, and attachment style — or how we feel and behave in close relationships — shape mental health during adolescence. Our new study, published in a special issue of Attachment and Human Development, explored pathways to mental health for teens with different racial-ethnic identities and experiences of discrimination in their neighborhood.
Teens’ Relationship Styles
We focused on two styles of behavior in close relationships:
Attachment avoidance – teens’ reluctance to trust others, discomfort with vulnerability, and tendency to deal with emotions alone.
Attachment anxiety – teens’ worries about their relationships and fears of abandonment.
Previous studies had shown that both attachment avoidance and anxiety foreshadow increased risk for depression— but these studies overwhelmingly focused on White college students. Almost no studies had examined the unique experiences of Black teens, for whom some aspects of avoidance (like being able to suppress vulnerable emotions when necessary) may be understandable —or even protective— in the context of dealing with racism in their daily lives.
We followed 171 teens from Prince George’s County, MD from age 14 to age 18, focusing on teens who identified as Black or as White. Each year, we asked them to report their attachment style, experiences of racism in their neighborhood, and symptoms of depression. We tested a simple but novel question:
Do the well-established links between attachment and depression differ depending on teens’ racial identity and perceptions of neighborhood racism?
Racial Identity & Racism Findings
When we looked at our sample of teens all together, attachment anxiety and avoidance predicted increasing risk for depressive symptoms— replicating most previous studies. But the story was more complex when considering race.
First, Black teens perceived significantly more racism in their neighborhoods than White teens (unsurprisingly), and those experiences of racism were associated with greater attachment avoidance and with elevated depressive symptoms in the early teen years. Second, avoidance predicted increases in depressive symptoms from age 14 to 18 only for teens who identified as White; avoidance was not a risk factor for teens who identified as Black. These effects of racial context were unique to avoidance, and not attachment anxiety.
This suggests that Black teens may cope with racism in their communities by adopting avoidant strategies to manage vulnerable emotions.
Rather than assuming that avoidance is universally “bad” for teens, we can see it instead as an understandable strategy for Black youth dealing with racism that may be protective, at least in the short term. Even so, all Black teens need and deserve close relationships in which they feel safe, secure, and supported in expressing their full range of emotion.
The findings reveal how the pathways linking experiences in close relationships to mental health outcomes can vary by racial context— highlighting the importance of considering diversity in adolescent development. Future research is needed to understand how attachment might interact with racial identity to shape other important outcomes, like coping, resilience, critical consciousness, and racial identity development.
How to Support Black Adolescents
As we consider ways to support positive youth development and mental health, it is critical to understand the unique social and emotional experiences of Black youth. Researchers and practitioners can support Black adolescents by:
Advocating for anti-racist policy;
Understanding that moderate levels of avoidance may be a protective strategy for dealing with racism in daily life (that is, not pathologizing teens’ avoidant attachment style); and
Supporting social relationships in which Black youth can safely express their full selves (for instance, relationships with natural mentors).
Author Bio: Dr. Jessica Stern is a postdoctoral fellow in the Dept. of Psychology at University of Virginia. Her research focuses on close relationships, child and adolescent development, empathy, and anti-racist scholarship.
June is Pride month, and as we celebrate our LGBTQ+IA2+ communities, we should also recognize that this current moment is a turning point from a policy perspective.
We need to support LGBTQ+ youth socially and recognize the intersection of youths’ race, sexuality, and gender identity.
In this blog, read more about what you can do next to support LGBTQ+ youth.
Watching gravity-defying drag-queens perform acrobats in 6 ½ inch stilettos or stunning ballroom legends voguing as they battle on the dancefloor are some of my favorite moments during Pride. However, every year I spot a group of LGBTQ+ youth sporting their colorful Pride flags like superhero caps, which stirs unfadable joy and the flutter of hope. They are superheroes for daring to live and be their most authentic selves in their own right.
The fact of the matter is, LGBTQ+ youth don’t need another hero, but they need the support to thrive. Their presence is an essential reminder that Pride is not a parade, but a brave protest to proclaim equity and freedom from the normative limits of gender and sexuality at the intersection of infinite social identities. Every year we celebrate Pride during the month of June as an important reminder of resistance against the oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, two-spirit, and other sexual diverse and gender minoritized individuals (LGBTQ+IA2+).
This year, over 250 anti-LGBTQ+ state legislative bills will loom over Pride. More importantly, is the fact that this historic surge of anti-LGBTQ+ bills is made up of 200 anti-LGBTQ+ bills that adversely affect LGBTQ+ youth. While a quarter of these bills aim to criminalize lifesaving medical care for transgender youth, approximately 75% of the anti-LGBTQ+ bills enable the discrimination against LGBTQ+ youth in schools, particularly transgender youth. 
We stand at a curious junction. The introduction of anti-LGBTQ+ school policies threatens decades of youth advocacy and work within the educational system to increase greater protections for LGBTQ+ youth. As such, schools with LGBTQ+ affirming policies have become a refuge of acceptance and empowerment for many LGBTQ+ youth who may face rejection at home or within their community. By and large, most LGBTQ+ youth identify schools as LGBTQ+ affirming (55%) and gender-affirming (51%) spaces in stark comparison to affirming homes (37% and 32%, respectively). 
The Importance of Social Support for LGBTQ+ Youth
By addressing the systemic oppression of LGBTQ+ youth, schools can become grounds for fostering social support networks and relationships. Research has found that creating affirming environments through Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) school groups and LGBTQ+-focused school policies impede peer bullying and foster higher levels of support from classmates and teachers. 
The association of LGBTQ+ affirming schools with lower rates of attempted suicide is important to preserve, given that 45% of LGBTQ+ considered suicide within the past year.
While student organizations like GSA’s do not guarantee psychological wellbeing, efforts to support and affirm LGBTQ+ youth are interrelated to feeling connected to their school.
Many of the anti-LGBTQ+ efforts in schools will threaten the viable connection LGBTQ+ youth have with their schools. Anti-LGBTQ+ school policies isolate youth by prohibiting transgender youth from competing in student athletics, limiting age-appropriate discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity, and denying youth access to school facilities that align with their gender identity. Furthermore, many of the anti-LGBTQ+ youth initiatives also include language that will criminalize the discussion of racism within schools. However, discourse around LGBTQ+ youth and school and social support often neglects meaningful discussion at the intersection of race.
The Importance LGBTQ+ Youth at Their Intersections
Let me spill some real tea that may be obvious to many Black folx in the LGBTQ+ community; It is simply impossible to discuss any LGBTQ+ issue without addressing race. Period. However, the discussion of Black LGBTQ+ youth and young adults often occurs within the context of sexual-transmitted infections, HIV, and PrEP adherence. It is important that we continue to discuss how systemic barriers to health that target sexual and gender minoritized youth disproportionately affect Black LGBTQ+ youth and youth adults. However, I cannot help but wonder how the historical hyper-sexualization of the Black body may exclude Black LGBTQ+ youth and young adults from conversations about social well-being, connectivity, and other forms of positive interpersonal engagement.
Black LGBTQ+ youth face discrimination at the intersection of their race, sexuality, and gender identity both at school and at home. I find the complexity of Black LGBTQ+ social support interesting because seeking support from both inside and outside their families can be both beneficial and potentially harmful. For instance, there is a link between LGBTQ+ affirming schools and reduced attempted suicide ; however, Black LGBTQ+ students attending majority Black schools were least likely to have a gender and sexuality alliance support group. 
In conjunction, Black young adults place great importance in connecting with their family compared to other racial groups; however, Black LGBTQ+ youth continued to experience greater rejection from their family and Black peers.  However, dialogue about the social support from their family of origin and close friends (i.e., chosen family, fictive kin) often assumes that these support systems operate independently.
As systemic changes propose a threat to make schools less affirming spaces, it will be increasingly important to understand how to aid Black families in their efforts to support their Black LGBTQ+ youth. My current research seeks to understand the role of Black LGBTQ+ young adults’ social support networks play as they navigate oppression that targets their racialized sexual and gender identity. Furthermore, I hope to shed more light on the interconnectedness of Black LGBTQ+ young adults’ social support network.
What Can We Do Now?
For most LGBTQ+ youth, the best way for parents and caregivers to demonstrate their support is by accepting and welcoming their LGBTQ+ friends or partner(s).
When LGBTQ+ youth choose a name that better reflects their gender identity, avoid “deadnaming” (the name given at birth).
Pronouns are essential tools that validate LGBTQ+ youth and young adults’ gender identity. When in doubt, use their name and ask about their pronouns.
We all make mistakes. If you misgender a person, it is important to acknowledge your error and apologize without making it about you.
LGBTQ+ youth of color may be more reluctant to report harm or harassment, so be proactive by offering your support while also bolstering their autonomy.
Listen, reflect, and talk respectfully with LGBTQ+ youth about their identity. Supporting LGBTQ+ youth may mean finding help and resources to process your personal feelings, expectations you developed as a parent, prejudices (we all have them), and identifying areas of growth with other adults.
 Day, J. K., Fish, J. N., Grossman, A. H., & Russell, S. T. (2020). Gay‐straight alliances, inclusive policy, and school climate: LGBTQ+ youths’ experiences of social support and bullying. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 30, 418-430.
 Truong, N. L., Zongrone, A. D., & Kosciw, J. G. (2020). Erasure and resilience: The experiences of LGBTQ students of color, Black LGBTQ youth in U.S. schools. New York: GLSEN.
 Hailey, J., Burton, W., & Arscott, J. (2020). We are family: Chosen and created families as a protective factor against racialized trauma and anti-LGBTQ oppression among African American sexual and gender minority youth. Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 16(2), 176-191.
Author Bio: Lamont Bryant (they/them) is a community psychology doctoral student at the University of Virginia. Inspired by Black feminist and queer/quare theory, Lamont seeks to understand the development of psychosocial-informed protective practices. Specifically, their research examines Black women, and sexual and gender minorities’ formation and utility of social support, both in-person and online. Lamont is a first-generation student and the recipient of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ Department Diversity Recruitment Award and the Dean’s Doctoral Fellowship. Before attending UVA, they lectured for several years at the University of Baltimore and Towson University’s Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. At the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine, they coordinated specialty health educational assistance and professional development for youth and LGBTQ-serving organizations and providers. Additionally, Lamont mentored a team of Black LGBTQ+ young adults through an empowerment framework and utilized community-based participatory research methodologies and systematic tools to gather community input for targeted interventions created for and with LGBTQ+ youth of color.
I am the Youth Opportunity Coordinator focused on Black Male Achievement in the City of Charlottesville.
In my work, I identify and direct opportunity-youth toward targeted services, and liaison with agencies, schools, special interest groups and organizations serving at-risk youth, especially minority children and youth or any other children who fall within the achievement gap definition, while overseeing policy and program implementation.
In this video blog and for Mental Health Awareness month, I share more about mental health changes I’ve seen in the pandemic and how we can support youth going forward.
We have to come to terms with the idea that our mental health needs have changed and will continue to be a large part of the conversation going forward. We as humans were not built to live in isolation, without community and fellowship, or going outside with sunshine. We aren’t built for how we’ve been living the last two years during the pandemic.
The renewed focus on mental health is something that is going to fundamentally change who we are, how we navigate throughout the world, the things we take for granted, what we are looking forward to and more. All these things are changing because we have to come to terms with the idea that what we were doing before was not sustainable. For many, not addressing our mental health and the issues we were facing with our families and in the workforce was really toxic.
There are so many opportunities right now to reshape our culture and that has to start with mental health.
What are we doing to take care of ourselves and our families? How will that permeate throughout the rest of our society?
Youth & Mental Health
For the youth I work with, they are no longer afraid to ask for help. More so in last two years I’ve noticed youth have the ability to:
Understand what is going on with themselves or doing a self-analysis,
Naming what that self-analysis comes up with, and
Being able to act upon it or ask for help.
Youth are not afraid to say “this is an issue I’d like adults to work with me on.” It’s become a part of their culture, in a really healthy way. Oftentimes youth know when something needs to happen for them – they know if they need to ask for medication, talk with someone, work with their friends, or ask someone for help – and that is a really good thing for mental health.
What Adults Can Do
Adults should not dismiss feelings or actions from youth about their mental health. Avoid saying things like “back in my day, this wasn’t an issue or we didn’t have depression or anxiety.” That is just not true. There were these similar issues but there may not have been words to describe or label them. Hopefully now we are starting to share these experiences and in ways that minimize how it affects others in the future.
Be vulnerable youth and share whatever is appropriate with your own experiences around mental health too. Allow them to see you. Once youth see the genuine and authentic you, then they will connect more. Breakdown “I am the teacher, mentor, adult in charge” and “you are the small person that only has the ability to learn from me.” Shift those roles and blend the idea that I, as an adult, can learn from you and you, as a youth, can learn from me. With this shift adults will see a greater impact.
If you need help or are in a mental health crisis, please ask for assistance and use resources available:
24/7 Teen Counseling Hotline in Charlottesville: (434) 972-7233
Author Bio: Daniel Fairley II received his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Richmond and his Master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration from the University of Vermont (UVM). He was awarded the Kenneth P. Saurman Memorial Award and Richard F. Stevens Outstanding Graduate student in the State of Vermont for his dedication to social justice and stellar academics. Daniel’s professional experience includes interning with the Operations department of The White House under the Obama Administration. He also worked as an Assistant Residence Director in the Department of Residential Life at UVM, and as the Area Coordinator at the University of Virginia in the Department of Housing and Residence Life. Daniel volunteered with the 100 Black Men of Central Virginia and the Charlottesville Dialogue on Race, which led to his current position as a Youth Opportunity Coordinator focused on Black Male Achievement for the City of Charlottesville. He now serves as the President of the 100 Black Men of Central Virginia and Board Member for Loaves & Fishes food pantry.