Growing Up Unequal

Whether it’s disabilities, race, or other factors, the situation a child is born into can lead to stark mental health inequities later in life.
Posted on September 13th, 2022 by

Young people growing up in poverty are two to three times more likely to have mental health issues than those with socioeconomic advantages. Young people with disabilities are more likely to be cyber bullied than those who are not disabled. Death by suicide is twice as likely for Black children as white.

“There’s a lot of evidence that marginalized groups—for example racial, sexual or gender minorities, or autistic people—suffer from mental health difficulties more than non-marginalized groups,” said Manuela Barreto, a social psychologist at the University of Exeter and Conference speaker. “And those with multiple such identities often have compounded difficulties.”

Just as mental health inequities exist, so too does unequal access to treatment. In disadvantaged communities, there are often too few counseling services, technology resources, or guidance for children and families who are already more in need. Additionally, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for mental health issues, which can span a multitude of symptoms and degrees of severity.

“The potential for personalized virtual support is there, but resources are incredibly unequally distributed,” said Meryl Alper, Conference speaker and professor and communication researcher at Northeastern University. “This makes it hard for all groups—for example, kids with disabilities, a category which encompasses a wide range of physical, sensory, and cognitive conditions—to simultaneously benefit.”

Since mental health is linked to physical health and social inequities, researchers are finding that treatments for mental health issues often need to be approached holistically. Sometimes simply improving social situations can help improve mental health, and thus physical health.

“Some of the most promising interventions or strategies aren’t specifically about mental health, but are a lot broader,” said Daniel Eisenberg, mental health policy researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles. “For example, home visiting programs to support families with an infant can improve mental health in life.”

 

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