2 Boston organizations helping teens of color deal with mental health issues

2 Boston organizations helping teens of color deal with mental health issues

By Courtney Cole, WBZ-TV

BOSTON — People of color face mental health challenges unique to their communities.

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

For teens who gather at the Center for Teen Empowerment, it’s a healing space.

“I can really be me, you know I say? Without the judgment. I can be free,” Breanna Bodden told WBZ-TV, saying it had changed her life dramatically. “Before I got here, mentally I was way off. I was down, you know what I’m saying?”

Vondell Martinez said he was in a depressive rut when he first heard about the center.

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

It’s not just the conversation that keeps them coming back.

“They make music! They dance! They do photography, they do anything art-based to help the community! And I was like you, I need to be here !” said Bodden.

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

“I feel like, in a way, it gives me a purpose, more than I had before. But it definitely had a positive impact on my mental health. Because you know, during the pandemic, being home all the time, not really socializing with people, all the things that happened during this time, people who died, things like that, you know? It’s hard to be on my own,” said fellow center member Ashlee Bell.

“Just the fact that this community is so positive and uplifting and breaking these generational cycles that we’ve had for a long time,” Bodden said.

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

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston also work every day to break these cycles.

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

According to a study published last year by JAMA Pediatrics, children of color, living in communities with the highest rates of poverty and crime, face unique mental health challenges.

“When you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, if you’re part of a family struggling to put food on the table, struggling to buy clothes, struggling to get a home safe and affordable, you’re actually telling a young person that maybe they don’t matter. And so that’s what our young people are dealing with, chronic poverty, this communal violence,” said Kevin Barton, executive director of YouthConnect, at WBZ.

YouthConnect is a Boys and Girls Clubs program that places licensed social workers in Boston police stations to help youth and their families deal with everyday trauma.

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

Barton said last year YouthConnect served 537 youth and more than 1,400 family members.

“I can tell you that last year, in terms of outcomes, for over 90% of people who had mental health issues as the main concern, over 50% made progress. That tells us something thing. It works,” Barton said.

He now says it’s time investments matched demand, so young people in need aren’t left to fend for their mental health.

“We’re not here to throw anyone away. So every youngster needs to know they have a second, third and fourth chance,” Barton said.

A chance to be seen, to be heard and to know they matter.

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