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Scholars: Institutional Racism a Mental Health Issue For Black Youth and Families


Some behavioral problems in Black youths can be attributed to their effort to protect themselves from racism, and is a “manifestation of depression,” one researcher told a panel at the seventh annual Diversity Challenge Conference at Boston College.

Dr. Anderson J. Franklin, the Honorable David S. Nelson Professional Chair in Education at Boston College, also noted that dysfunctional housing, such as group homes and foster care, and poor schooling are factors that put children at risk of developing mental disorders. Therefore, Franklin said, the anti-social acts cannot be treated with a simple diagnostic because the issue is deeply rooted in society and institutions.

The way to combat mental issues for youths and their families, Franklin said, is to “treat the illness of institutional racism … a disease that has legal consequences as well as mental consequences.”

Franklin was among the more than 100 educators, physicians, clinicians, community activist, psychologists and graduate students who participated in the two-day Diversity Challenge conference sponsored by the Institute for the Study and Promotion of Race and Culture. The conference, entitled “Race and Culture Intersections in Scientific Research and Mental Health Service Delivery for Children, Adolescent, and Families,” focused on youths and families for the first time since it began in 2000.

“In the last seven years [since Diversity Challenge was founded] children have never been a focus and looking at research there is very little about race, culture, adolescent and families,” said Dr. Guerda Nicolas, co-chair of Diversity Challenge. “And so we wanted to give [researchers and professionals] an opportunity to learn how” to conduct studies on these three areas together.

The Center for Mental Health Services estimates that 20 percent of children and adolescent have a diagnosable mental disorder and many, lacking access to health insurance, don’t receive the proper care.

The Institute for the Study and Promotion of Race and Culture at BC started in 2000 under the direction of Dr. Janet Helms, chair of Diversity Challenge, as a way to help the Boston community and the nation deal with societal conflicts that are associated with race and culture.

The theme for next year’s conference is “The Intersections of Culture, Race, Trauma, and Mental Health across the Life Span.”

“Talking about race and diversity is not an easy thing,” said Nicolas. “It’s a challenge and we hope that each year we challenge people to think about race in every aspect of what they do.”

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