Two Boston organizations help teens of color deal with mental health struggles

Written by Courtney Cole, WBZ-TV

BOSTON – People of color face unique challenges in their communities when it comes to mental health.

Two organizations in Boston are working to meet the growing demand for resources for teens.

For young people who meet in Teen Empowerment Center It is a space for healing.

“I can really be me, you know I’m saying? Without judgment. I can be free,” Brianna Bowden told WBZ-TV, saying it radically changed her life. “Before I got here, I was psychologically far away. I was low, do you know what I’m saying?”

Vondel Martinez said he was depressed when he first learned about the center.

“It got in the way of a lot of my ambitions, a lot of my goals. I didn’t want to do anything. But since then after COVID it’s been fine, and I’m trying to get back into the loop of things,” he told WBZ.

It’s not just the conversation that makes them come back.

“They play music! They dance! They do photography, they do everything based on art to help the community! And I was like you, I need to be here!” Bowden said.

The center uses art to therapeutically help teens work through their challenges and traumas to become the best version of themselves.

“I feel, in a way, that it gives me more purpose than I did before. But it definitely positively impacted my mental health. Because you know, during the pandemic, just being home all the time, not socializing with people, all the things that were going on. During that time period, people are dying things like that, you know? It’s hard to be on your own,” said another Center member, Ashley Bell.

“Just the fact that this community is so positive and wonderful and that it breaks the cycles of generations that we’ve had so long ago,” Bowden said.

Courses that existed even before the pandemic began, discouraging communities of color from seeking help with mental health.

The Boys and Girls Clubs in Boston He also works every day to break those cycles.

“There has always been a demand for mental health services. The pandemic has just amplified mental health issues,” said Andrea Swain, the organization’s vice president of program operations.

According to a study published last year by JAMA Pediatrics, children of color who live in communities with higher rates of poverty and crime, deal with unique mental health challenges.

“When you don’t know where your next meal is going to come from, if you’re in a family that struggles to put food on the table, struggles to buy clothes, struggles to get safe and affordable housing, you’re actually saying a young man probably doesn’t matter. And that’s what our young people face, Chronic poverty, this societal violence,” Kevin Barton, executive director of YouthConnect, told WBZ.

Youth Connect It is a boys and girls club program that places licensed social workers in Boston police departments to help young people and their families deal with daily trauma.

“We pick up that phone and call them after a police officer is referred,” Barton said. “And about 84% of people say yes, which is incredible. And it tells me there is a need.”

In the past fiscal year, Barton said, YouthConnect served 537 young people and more than 1,400 of their family members.

“I can tell you that in the past year, in terms of outcomes, for more than 90% of those who had mental health concerns as something they noted as their top concern, more than 50% have made progress. And that tells us something. This works,” Barton said.

Now he says it’s time to invest to match demand, so young people in need are not left to fend for their mental health themselves.

“We’re not going to get rid of anyone,” Barton said. “And so every young person needs to know they have a second, a third, a fourth.”

An opportunity to be seen and heard and to know its importance.

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