As I mentioned in the previous posts connected to this series (part 1 & part 2) not only is this National Children's Mental Health Week, this is also National School Counselors Week and I have worked in schools for the past 3 years.
With that being said I believe that is important to discuss what happens with children's mental health care in schools and because my audience is mostly parents I will try to help you with specific things to watch out for, especially pertaining to Black Children with this being Black History Month.
Working in schools and in agencies I have seen tons of black children go undiagnosed or being misdiagnosed. Now, I do not believe that every child necessarily needs a diagnosis to receive help (hence my move into coaching), however, it does help with obtaining resources and assistance such as free therapy.
Misdiagnosis or ignoring that a diagnosis may need to be given are by far the biggest issues that I have seen working in the school. Here is what I mean: A young black boy who is struggling in class at times displays aggressive behaviors such as yelling, getting upset easily, and when he has an issue with peers it is often identified as him, "provoking other students". There are two possibilities that can happen with this scenario (other than the school truly attempting to help and get an accurate perspective on what is going on).
1. He is often suspended, not listened to, and he gets a negative reputation in the school leading to teachers, possibly even through higher grades perceiving him to be a certain way before they even get to know him.
2. He receives a referral for the school counselor or for an outside agency, maybe it is embedded into the school. Many times white counselors will first go with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. This disorder carries a TON of weight, particularly for a black male and can negatively impact his future in a major way.
Now, it is not impossible that this is an accurate diagnosis. However, for a white child they would look at several other diagnoses before giving this one and that is a major problem. There several other things that could be going on with this child that they typically fail to assess-
What trauma may he have experienced previously that may be impacting his behavior. Black people get PTSD too!
Does he have depression? Depression in boys often does not present in the form of crying, particularly in black families where we are still learning to not discourage this in boys - in is more likely to come out in the form of aggression.
Does he have ADHD? Counselors, teachers, etc .are quick to say white boys have ADHD but overlook the symptoms when it comes to children of color.
Is there a less stigmatized diagnosis that could be given such as disruptive mood disregulation disorder which tends to take a little bit more of the blame off of the child and attribute behaviors more to what may be going on in their environment?
Is the teacher a part of the problem? Schools often turn a blind eye to staff that are being horrible to students. Whether that is being harder on certain students than others, yelling excessively, picking on particular students for various reasons such as skin color, interactions with parents, or pure hatred, none of that is acceptable.
Believe it or not I have seen all of these things play out and it is a sad sight to see. And it is not just with boys. It is more prevalent with boys because they are more quickly given a negative label in these environments. Also, this article would be SUPER LONG if I walked through all possibilities with girls as well.
So, for those of you who are counselors, principals, teachers, mental health professionals, other school staff - check your biases. Each student, regardless of race, culture, creed, or what other school staff members have told you about them deserve a fair shot.
For parents - be aware, get second opinions, if something seems off, say something, call them out! The best advocate that your child will ever have is you!
If this was helpful for you and pointed out some things that you were not aware of comment below and be sure you are on my email list for weekly parenting and mental health tips! Also check out my podcast! It is all about fostering children's mental wellness through connection between parent and child.