Harlem’s teens tackle depression after Parkland shooting

4/26/2018, 2:50 p.m.

The Metro-Manhattan (NY) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated and the Alpha Gamma Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated hosted a forum Thursday, April 19, on teen depression at Harlem Hospital as part of their Young Achievers mentorship program for Black and Hispanic teens. The forum, titled More Than Words—The Impact of Stress, Adversity and Trauma on Teen Well-Being, drew more than 30 attendees from Harlem schools and organizations.

Organized as a community-based response to the emerging teen depression crisis that has gained national attention after the Parkland School shooting, the forum provided a platform to discuss concerns about mental health issues, as well as recent research indicating that an increasing percentage of teens are experiencing depression or underlying emotional issues from stress or anxiety stemming from trauma, adverse childhood events or social issues.

“This discussion is taking place at the right time because I have been concerned by the stories I hear at school about students who are talking about contemplating suicide or friends who are feeling as if no one notices their emotional challenges, even after Parkland. The lack of visibility or public attention on the specific emotional issues experienced by Black and Brown students from issues related to discrimination and other psycho-social factors is frustrating,” said Dimonique Johnson, president of the National Action Network’s Youth Huddle, who participated on the panel to provide a youth perspective.

Other panelists included Dr. Aaron Reliford, chief of Harlem Hospital’s Outpatient Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; Dr. Lillian Reynolds, district homelessness liaison, Mount Vernon School District system; teen psychologist Dr. Alberta Springer; and Rowland Boateng, senior director of Social Services at Harlem Children’s Zone. Event chair and Metro-Manhattan (NY) Chapter Links member, Valerie Kennedy Miller, facilitated the discussion.

Reliford began the discussion by defining and distinguishing the symptoms associated with depression and bipolar disorder from the sadness or frustration that can follow a personal loss or setback. He advised audience members that it was important to understand that “depression is a medical illness that can physically impact patients.” Reynolds and Boateng emphasized the acknowledgement of having a mental health issue can be very difficult, which is why teens dealing with traumatic or destabilizing life situations should reach out to trusted members of their support networks for help and guidance. Springer noted the importance of recognizing how sub-cultural differences in communities of color can affect efforts to assist families and teens in managing mental health issues.

The forum provided in-depth information to attendees and candid insights about how unresolved mental health issues can affect individuals in need of help. Young people attending the event were fully engaged during the discussion and openly shared their experiences with managing stress or helping peers to resolve emotional challenges.

In commenting on the forum’s influence, The Links Incorporated’s Eastern Area Services Youth Chair, Barbara Martin, stated, “It’s important for organizations that serve communities of color to provide safe spaces for young people and their families to discuss issues related to depression and emotional well-being.” Alpha Gamma Lambda Chapter member and Young Achievers mentor Shawn Hill said, “This forum achieved everything we hoped it would by helping young people in this community learn firsthand about depression and strategies for confronting this difficult topic with peers and family.”

The Metro-Manhattan (NY) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated is a local chapter of The Links, Incorporated, an international, not-for-profit organization of 286 chapters and 15,000 women of color that was established in 1946. As one of the country’s oldest service organizations dedicated to enriching, sustaining and supporting the economic and cultural survival of African-American communities, The Links, Incorporated represents an influential network of women committed to community service. The Metro-Manhattan (NY) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated was chartered April 23, 1988, and focuses on carrying out the mission of its national organization through programs that substantially affect the lives of children and families within the Harlem community.