Building Generational Resilience: Supporting BIPOC Grandfamilies and Kinship Families’ Mental Health

MHA Admin

Sun, 06/30/2024 – 19:35

by Jamarl D. Clark, Generations United Assistant Director, National Center on Grandfamilies

Have you ever felt the need to be seen and acknowledged? It’s a universal desire, right?! Unfortunately, the Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) community often doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves, especially concerning mental health and wellness. That’s why July is dedicated to BIPOC Mental Health. Let’s take a moment to discuss something important without taking up too much of your time: the mental health needs of BIPOC grandfamilies and kinship families. These families step in when parents can’t, and their mental health and well-being needs can vary greatly across different generations.

Did you know? There are approximately 2.4 million kids living in grandfamilies and kinship families, where they are being raised by grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, or other relatives without their parents in the home. About 7.6 million children are in households headed by a relative who isn’t their parent. Grandfamilies and kinship families are diverse, and they represent various geographies, socioeconomic statuses, races, and ethnicities. Yet, they are disproportionately Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, and, in some areas, Latino.

BIPOC caregivers and young people in these families often struggle to access mental health services for issues ranging from depression and stress to behavioral challenges. But what’s really holding them back?

Breaking Down Barriers

Growing up as a Black kid, I always heard the saying, “What happens in this house stays in this house.” This saying, especially prevalent among Black and Brown communities and passed down through generations, reflects a cultural norm that emphasizes the importance of keeping family matters private. While well-intentioned, this hush-hush attitude can create a barrier to seeking external help for personal or family issues. As a result, BIPOC families may avoid seeking the mental health support they need to navigate issues like depression, trauma, anxiety, substance abuse, and more.

Let’s talk about the hurdles BIPOC grandfamilies and kinship families face when it comes to getting the mental health support they need. On top of the hurdles that any BIPOC family may face, these families often deal with additional stigmas, financial challenges, and a lack of access to mental health care that is culturally responsive and supportive. There are also hurdles associated with digital literacy and access to high-speed internet, which many families can use to access mental health resources.

Take Mercedes from Texas, for example. She’s 68 and raising her grandkids. She said, “I had to jump through hoops in the system four times just to get help… It really got me down.” In her Hispanic community, talking about mental health is taboo. People fear judgment or being seen as weak, leading to a lack of awareness and support. This stigma, rooted in cultural beliefs of resilience and self-reliance, frames seeking mental health support as a personal failure or family shame. Consequently, many avoid discussing their struggles or seeking help, worsening their mental health. Additionally, mistrust of healthcare providers due to past mistreatment, lack of culturally competent care, and cultural pressures to rely on religious practices further prevent access to mental health support.

Financial challenges are also a major hurdle faced by these communities. Many grandfamilies and kinship families are on fixed incomes and dealing with the extra expenses of raising kids. Therapy can be expensive, and when you’re choosing between paying bills, buying groceries, covering the cost of medication, affording childcare, paying the mortgage, and paying for diapers and formula or getting mental health support, it’s a tough call. The desire to provide food, shelter, and security often outweighs the prioritization of mental health and wellness.

Dr. Deborah Langosch, who works with grandfamilies/kinship families and was featured in Generations United’s 2023 State of the Grandfamilies report, says, “We’re seeing a huge increase in anxiety, depression, PTSD, and social isolation among these families. The need is so urgent, and there’s a shortage of mental health providers, so we’re struggling to keep up. Early intervention is crucial because delayed treatment can have a big negative impact.”

Imagine if there were more mental health professionals who looked like them and understood their cultural nuances. It would build trust and make a world of difference for these families.

How We Can Step Up

To truly support BIPOC grandfamilies and kinship families, we can:

  • Embrace Cultural Understanding: It’s crucial that mental health services appreciate and respect the diverse backgrounds and traditions of these families.
  • Empower Their Voices: Involve caregivers, parents, and young people from these families in designing and setting up support services. Their insights and experiences are invaluable.
  • Ensure Accessibility: Advocate for more affordable mental health care and provide the necessary technology for virtual visits. Everyone deserves easy access to the help they need.
  • Invest in Tribal Nations: Support culturally appropriate mental health services tailored specifically for Tribal communities.

In closing, supporting BIPOC grandfamilies and kinship families with their mental health isn’t just about talking—it’s about taking action. By breaking down stigmas, pushing for affordable care, and making services culturally sensitive, we’re giving these families a fair shot at thriving. Let’s ensure every voice counts and every family gets the help they need. Together, we can make mental health support easy to reach and empowering for all.

Resources

Generations United. (2023) State of Grandfamilies Report 2023. Building Resilience: Supporting Grandfamilies’ Mental Health and Wellness.

Generations United. (2023). Strengthening Cultural Responsiveness in Intergenerational Programs.

Generations United. (2020). American Indian & Alaska Native Grandfamilies: Helping Children Thrive Through Connection to Family and Cultural Identity Toolkit & Tipsheet.

Generations United. (2020). African American Grandfamilies: Helping Children Thrive Through Connection to Family and Culture Toolkit & Tipsheet.

Generations United. (2022). Latino Grandfamilies: Helping Children Thrive Through Connection to Culture and Family Toolkit & Tipsheet.

Learn more about grandfamilies and kinship families at gu.org and gksnetwork.org.

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Author: MHA Admin