Promoting Social and Academic Wellness Among African American Adolescent Males: Culturally Responsive Approaches

Promoting Social and Academic Wellness Among African American Adolescent Males: Culturally Responsive Approaches

Carole Rene' Collins Ayanlaja (Eastern Illinois University, USA), Catherine Lenna Polydore (Eastern Illinois University, USA) and Danielle Anita Beamon (Eastern Illinois University, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3331-4.ch005


African American adolescent males are at increasing risk for mental health challenges. Statistics indicate that depression and anxiety are of primary concern. Historical and social conditions, including institutionalized racism, produce stressors for Black males and propel negative public attitudes. The responses of healthcare professionals and school personnel to the mental health needs of Black adolescent males are generalized with limited focus on this specific population and effective interventions. The authors identify and describe predominant mental health conditions in Black male adolescents and describe the current landscape of emotional health impacting this population. They identify determinant factors that lead to poor mental health. Activating a social-constructivist approach, the authors recommend culturally responsive approaches to address the problem and improve outcomes, along with future directions.
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Positive mental health has become a greater focus in recent decades because of its strengths and capacities which enable people to thrive (Lopez, Pedrotti, & Snyder, 2018). Yet, some of the most vulnerable of our population are experiencing mental health challenges. One group of particular interest to the authors is Black/African American males. The professional challenge this chapter addresses is due to a set of conditions this group is experiencing. While the researchers, who identify as Black/African American, recognize that Black males are not a monolithic group, they also recognize that as a whole, young Black men are not fully experiencing the benefits of positive mental health. Due to several socio-cultural factors, they are disproportionately affected by multiple correlates, which may impact mental health (Grant, et al., 2005; U.S Department of Health and Human services, 2001; National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities [NIMHD], n.d.).

Mental illness exists in America society today. It impacts all segments of society, including Black male adolescents. However, the ways in which they experience mental health issues cannot be unilaterally defined. For African American males, unhealthy behaviors are not the catalyst for depression and anxiety. Though there may be a perception of prevalence of substance abuse among Black males, the research indicates that non-Hispanic Blacks have less substance abuse issues than Whites (Merikangas et al., 2010). Instead, for Black males, unhealthy behaviors are often used to cope with and decrease mental health challenges (Jackson, Knight, & Rafferty, 2010; Mezuk et al., 2010). Yet, when they adopt these damaging habits as protective mechanisms, these habits become the catalyst to more unhealthy outcomes that compound mental disease and disorders such as anxiety and depression. Over time, African American males experience more intense depressive related outcomes than other groups, including higher chronicity and disability (Ward & Mengesha, 2013).

There is an intersectionality among race, gender, and social context which exists that molds the African American male experience. Multiple identities are intertwined, interdependent, and mutually integral (Howard & Reynolds, 2013). The multiple identity of being a Black male in American society shapes stress in their lives (Griffith, Ellis, & Allen, 2013). This pervasive social stress puts Black males at risk for enduring health challenges (Mezuk et al., 2013). Over the past 125 years, there have been approximately 120 studies on depression that included African American males in the sample pool, but only 19 of those studies focused on how these subjects experienced the disease (Ward & Mengesha, 2013). Nonetheless, because Black people and the male gender are factors negatively associated with the use of mental health services (Broman, 2012), African American males are a critical population who often suffer in silence.

Given the reality of the social impacts on Black males throughout their lives and the ravishes of mental and physical illness, a focus on how these factors interplay is necessary. Most specifically, a lens on adolescent African American males is needed because of the significance on both development and social experience during the adolescent period. Black adolescents are influenced by three worlds: school, family, and peers in society. The influence each has is instrumental, but the impact on adolescents may be mutually supportive, ambivalent, or hostile (Phelan & Link, 1998).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Culturally Responsive Practice: Professional practice which involves the intentional seeking and utilization of cultural knowledge through education, cultural training, formal and informal consultation, and interaction with people from diverse backgrounds.

Rapport: The relationship between people that facilitates empathy and continuously reinforces the process of understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Anxiety: Anxiety is a psychological disturbance characterized by excessive worry that creates psychological and physiological discomfort that may impact multiple life domains.

Mental Illness: Mental Illness encompasses the exhaustive list of psychological disorders that are described by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychological Disorders fifth edition (DSM 5).

Systemic Racism: Ingrained racism that is part of the systems that create standardized norms that oppresses other cultures that do not share Eurocentic values.

Depression: Depression is a psychological disturbance characterized by a lack of interest or continuous gloom that creates psychological discomfort that may impact multiple life domains.

Cultural Competency: The ability for an individual to have consistent behaviors and attitudes that are congruent with the cross-cultural systemic structure of the institution in which one is navigating.

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