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2020 was a difficult year for many reasons.
The combination of a deadly pandemic, a racial reckoning about police violence, and economic hardships have placed a heavy toll on many families.
New research from America’s Promise Alliance and Research for Action shows how 2020 hurt high schoolers and their ability to thrive in school.
They found that Latino youth were among the most impacted by the disruptions of 2020.
“Young people are stressed and their mental health is suffering—with disproportionate impacts on young women and nonbinary youth, Latinx students, and youth experiencing food insecurity,” according to the report.
Let’s examine how COVID-19 and the resurgence in racial justice activism have impacted high schoolers and the implications for Latino youth mental health.
What Does the Report Show about High-Schoolers?
America’s Promise Alliance and Research for Action teamed up to analyze the high school experience during a historic period of upheaval.
They conducted a national survey of 2,439 people ages 13-19 who were enrolled in U.S. high schools during the 2020-2021 school year.
Researchers wanted to focus on three distinct areas related to health and wellness: mental health and relationships, opportunities to learn about race and racism, and plans for after high school and the readiness to pursue those plans.
“Understanding young people’s current experiences across those areas will be crucial as schools and communities plan their responses and approaches for the forthcoming recovery period,” according to the report.
Researchers found three main findings from this focus:
- High schoolers are struggling with declining mental health and levels of disconnection from peers and adults.
- Opportunities to learn about race and racism in the classroom vary but are associated with higher levels of critical consciousness and social action.
- COVID-19 has upended postsecondary planning. But students who feel the readiest for postsecondary plans are those most connected to teachers and peers, have opportunities to discuss race and racism in school, and feel academically interested and challenged.
Additionally, researchers found results about Latino children and their experiences with declining wellbeing in high school.
The survey showed that Latino high schoolers were most likely out of all racial/ethnic groups surveyed to experience poor or declining mental health.
“In addition, Latinx youth were 60% more likely to report feelings of poor or reduced mental health compared to white youth,” according to the report.
Latino Youth Mental Health
Unfortunately, Latino youth are often suffering from mental health issues.
“22% of Latino youth have depressive symptoms. That is higher than any group besides Native American youth,” according to a Salud America! research review.
Latino children are also less likely to use mental health care services (8%) compared to white children (14%).
We know Latinos of all ages suffer from mental health issues disproportionately.
Why does this happen?
Latinos experience a lack of access to mental health services, discrimination, poverty, school and family issues, the impacts of immigration, and more.
Latino immigrants especially are at risk for severe mental health issues due to the impact of migration on a family.
This often-stressful life change can be devastating when families are separated at the border. And if Latino immigrants are undocumented, they have the additional stress from a fear of deportation or detainment and may struggle to get access to mental health resources.
The stigma against mental illness also prevents Latinos from seeking help through mental health services.
“For the Latinx/Hispanic community, mental health and mental illness are often stigmatized topics resulting in prolonged suffering in silence. This silence compounds the range of experiences that may lead to mental health conditions including immigration, acculturation, trauma, and generational conflicts,” according to Mental Health America.
And even when Latinos do seek help for mental illness and suicide prevention, they face many hurdles, like a lack of culturally competent mental health providers, cost, and insurance barriers.
“The Latinx/Hispanic community faces unique institutional and systemic barriers that may impede access to mental health services, resulting in reduced help-seeking behaviors,” according to Mental Health America.
How Can We Help Latino High Schoolers?
As the pandemic starts to come to an end and schools prepare for another year, we can do our best to uplift high schoolers and help them through the struggles of the past year.
America’s Promise Alliance and Research for Action recommended the following steps to help high schoolers:
- Address student mental health, now and on an ongoing basis.
- Teach a comprehensive and accurate history of race and racism in the United States.
- Prioritize postsecondary success through relevant content and pathways planning.
- Saturate young people’s environments with caring adult relationships.
We can also do our part to help Latino teenagers with mental health issues.
Eliminating the stigma against mental illness can be the first step.
“People tend to associate mental health with cosa de locos, I’m crazy, or there’s something wrong with me. It’s so important to normalize the experience,” said Dr. Luz Garcini, psychologist and epidemiologist at UT Health San Antonio.
Having more bilingual and culturally relevant mental health resources is also important. These bilingual materials from National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) can help Latinos learn about mental health treatment.
We can also help children who witness traumatic events, like domestic violence or murder.
These kids still have to go to class or carry on while school is out for summer or due to the pandemic. They face a burden of stress and trauma that can interfere with their behavior and grades—and schools often aren’t even aware there’s an issue.
Download the free Salud America! “Handle With Care Action Pack.”
The Action Pack helps police, school, and mental healthcare leaders start the Handle with Care program, in which police notify schools when they encounter children at a traumatic scene, so schools can provide support right away. They can virtually support kids if school is out for summer or still closed due to COVID-19.