What young BIPOC want faith leaders to know

 In Diversity & Gen Z, Research, Voices of Young People

In our last post, we explored some of the key insights in our newest report, Navigating Injustice: A Closer Look at Race, Faith & Mental Health. Here, we’re sharing some of what young Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) told us about their mental health, how faith impacts that, and how trusted adults can make an impact.

In addition to the mental health struggles many young people face, young BIPOC grapple with the emotional and spiritual harm of racism at structural, historical, and interpersonal levels. Psychologists refer to the significant psychological distress caused by racial discrimination as racial trauma, which was a main theme in the interviews for this project.

The level of violent and nonviolent crimes against the people in our communities is extremely detrimental to our mental well-being and our health, really.

To deal with this added level of stress and trauma, young BIPOC use individually-focused coping strategies like self-care, and communal ones such as working toward social change and engaging in social support.

Yet, young BIPOC also note the impact of religious and spiritual practices to help relieve emotional strain:

I went on a spiritual retreat during the academic year where we would go off into the mountain somewhere and pray for a while. It was a good thing for my mental health because it gave us a break from stressing over what we were studying so much for, helping us take a step back and remember that these things are transient. Over time, the exam will be over and it’s not the big meteor that’s going to destroy our lives, even if it might feel that way at times.

When it comes to their religious and spiritual lives, young BIPOC want to be accepted and embraced by the adults in their faith communities, which includes having their racial and ethnic identities affirmed and celebrated. They offered a few ways adults can ensure that happens:

  1. Know what you don’t know. There’s only so much we can truly understand about what it’s like to be a young BIPOC in the US today, but adults can rely less on their own understanding and instead lean into leading with empathy and humility. Rather than saying, “I was young once too, so I know how you feel, and I know what you need to do to improve your situation,” we could say something like, “Though I was young once too, I don’t know what it’s like to be a young person today. I know it must be challenging with everything going on. I’m here to support you in any way I can.”
  2. Take mental health concerns seriously. In our research on mental health, we at Springtide hear time and time again from young people 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 illness. Young BIPOC say the best way to address this is for adults to first affirm what they’re going through.
  3. Welcome and embrace their racial and ethnic identities. Young BIPOC do not leave their identities at the door when they walk into their places of worship—and they don’t want to. Interview data suggests that faith leaders who ignore their young people’s racial and ethnic identities 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.

To hear more insights from young BIPOC, read the full Navigating Injustice report here!

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