How youth mental health is affected by racism, hom...

How youth mental health is affected by racism, homophobia and misogyny

Credit: Emmanuel Ikwuegbu/Pexels

This series was published in partnership with Local Circles, a Detroit-based nonprofit organization that offers employment opportunities in youth-led research to increase college and work readiness for Detroit teens. Find out more about Local Circles.

In this essay, Detroit teen Amaya Nard, a Local Circles participant, discusses the mental health issues that affect people in marginalized groups.

While working with Detroit nonprofit Local Circles on a research project about how the pandemic affected teens’ mental health, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about other factors that affect people’s mental health. I’ve thought about my experience as a Black girl in America and the ways people in other marginalized groups – who regularly experience racism, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny – can face mental health challenges.

Dealing with racism is something most people of color had to deal with from a young age. Learning about how people will hate and possibly hurt you for no reason other than the color of your skin can implant thoughts of inferiority and wondering if you’re good enough. In Black households, many children are taught about how to interact with law enforcement to lower their chances of being harmed or even killed, with the threat of police brutality hanging over our heads. In a country that is systematically racist, life can sometimes feel hopeless, which can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. All these things as well as many others can cause race-based traumatic stress. Racial injustice can and will affect people of all ages and walks of life and won’t stop until the system is dismantled.

People in the LGBTQIA+ community also face problems that can cause a deterioration in their mental health.  Coming out can be traumatic and can come with fears of rejection from your loved ones, as well as harassment and bullying from classmates. Young people in this community are at a high of being assaulted, harassed or even kicked out of their house by their parents. Transgender individuals face similar problems and threats to their safety. Transgender youth are twice as likely to experience depression, seriously consider suicide or attempt suicide than their cisgender lesbian, gay and bi peers, who are more than twice as likely to say they experience ongoing feelings of hopelessness or sadness than heterosexual youth. This level of unacceptance from the people around you and society just because of how you were born and who you love is unacceptable, and it needs to be fixed.

Women and girls face many forms of misogyny and sexism that can lead to many different mental health problems, whether battling eating disorders or being scared to leave the house in anything but a hoodie and sweatpants. Being told from a young age that this is normal can lead to depression and anxiety disorders.  

Clearly, there’s a problem with so many types of people facing issues that worsen their mental health just for being who they are. Some of these problems can be solved with a simple lesson we learned as children – to treat others with kindness – but they won’t be fixed until we break down systems that perpetuate racism, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny.