By Susan Parmelee
A founding premise of the Wellness & Prevention Center is that change needs to happen community by community. Through meetings with youth, parents, community leaders, and mental health professionals, we knew that the support our young people needed was broken. We strategically planned to improve upon how we help teens and families address the challenges that youth face as they develop into adulthood.
By placing mental health professionals on school campuses with services open to anyone, regardless of insurance coverage or ability to pay, we planned to address the gaps in mental health and substance use treatment in South Orange County.
While the crises of youth substance abuse and rising suicide rates were the main concerns in 2014, the racism and biases that Brown and Black people in South Orange County face were also an issue.
Systemic institutionalized racism leads to poor health outcomes, both mental and physical. The challenges that people of color face lead to more adverse childhood events and trauma that can lead to unhealthy development and increased risk for the diseases of mental health and substance use.
Sadly, our country has systems and institutions that support racial discrimination and have led to lower socioeconomic status (SES) for the majority of our country’s Black and Brown population.
Lower SES results in mental health disparities, as youth living in poverty are exposed to more stressors and have fewer buffers to counter that stress. Low-income neighborhoods typically have poorer quality schools and housing, fewer support systems, more single-parent homes, and more frequent exposure to racism and discrimination. Youth whose daily lives involve adversity are at increased risk for poor mental health outcomes.
As mental health professionals, WPC staff all have extensive training in cross-cultural competency; however, we are now in a moment where we need to move beyond that and help our community gain skills in anti-racism.
This is a moment in which community can make a difference, as we are seeing in peaceful civil protests and dialogs. The Wellness & Prevention Center professionals encourage open conversation that promotes change to the institutions that have long supported racism.
This is a moment that should inspire all of us to do better as a community, country, and as members of the human race. With so much uncertainty facing us, we should pledge to be more compassionate and understanding of each other’s perspectives.
This is bigger than current events; it is about basic human dignity regardless of skin color. Change does not occur overnight; this is going to be a difficult process, but we have the opportunity as a community to make positive change.
The Wellness & Prevention Center will be here to support youth and families through what we hope will be the beginning of a new era in the history of our country and our world. We are open to hear from members of the community as we include discussions about race as part of our communitywide wellness education.
Susan Parmelee is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Executive Director of the Wellness & Prevention Center: wpc-oc.org. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.