Three Ways to Support Mental Health for BIPOC Gen Z

 In Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we’ll be sharing tips from our insights from young people on mental health. For our report Navigating Injustice, responses from more than 3,100 young Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) were taken from the 2021 and 2022 State of Religion and Young People surveys and analyzed to better understand the lives and spiritual needs of young BIPOC. Nineteen in-depth, semi-structured interviews were also conducted via telephone and video call with BIPOC young people to understand how they regard and experience their ethnic-racial and religious identities in their life, especially as those identities relate to mental health. 

Like other young people, young BIPOC report high levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. Yet, the mental-health crisis is often compounded by experiences of racial prejudice and discrimination. Research in psychology shows that these experiences are associated with elevated levels of trauma symptoms, depression, anxiety, and suicidality.* Despite these experiences, Springtide data reveal that young BIPOC are flourishing mentally and emotionally at rates comparable to their White peers. Further, young BIPOC report high levels of life satisfaction, agency, and self-esteem. When asked about the kinds of things that support their mental health, over half of young BIPOC (58%) said that their faith matters.  

Young BIPOC cited practicing self-care (e.g., joyful movement, nourishment, therapy, rest, or relaxation), seeking collective care and social support from others who share their ethnic-racial identity, participating in efforts for social change, and engaging in religious or spiritual practices as ways they help themselves navigate injustice and bolster their mental health. Yet, faith leaders and others working directly with young people can also support their flourishing by: 

Taking mental health concerns seriously. We at Springtide hear time and time again from young people about how treating mental health as an exclusively spiritual problem—one that can simply be discerned or prayed away—hurts more than it helps. A spiritual solution to mental-health problems can and must promote care that recognizes the independent reality of mental-health issues. When young people are asked how adults and organizational leaders can help with mental health, they repeatedly say the best way is to affirm what young people are going through. 

Acknowledge that injustice exists and it has real impacts. Young people are searching for judgement-free zones where they can express their pain and trauma without repercussion. They seek to name rather than ignore the injustices done to them and their friends. Naming injustice and the emotions it invokes is not only an important part of recognition, it is also one of the first steps to identifying the impact of injustice on one’s identity. 

Welcoming and embracing their ethnic-racial identities (ERI). Young people who take pride in their ethnic-racial identities are more likely to report peer acceptance, interpersonal functioning, and belonging within their communities. They don’t leave these identities at the door when they walk into their places of worship—and they don’t want to. Interview data suggest that faith leaders who ignore their young people’s ERI do so at the risk of great spiritual and emotional harm. Faith leaders can begin to bridge this gap by engaging in practices that ask young people, not just young BIPOC, to reflect on how their important identity or identities create meaning and purpose in their lives. These conversations should seek to empower young people, help them claim their identities with dignity and pride, and see these identities as one part of the wholeness of their personhood. 

Reference: Carter, R.T., Mazzula, S., Victoria, R., Vazquez, R., Hall, S., Smith, S., Sant-Barket, S., Forsyth, J. Bazelais, K., & Williams, B. (2013). Initial development of the race-based traumatic stress symptom scale: Assessing the emotional impact of racism. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 5, 1–9. 

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