The Black community has endured tremendous trauma since arriving in the U.S. Studies find generational trauma is detrimental to Black children’s mental health.

According to Today, recent studies show suicide rates among Black people are much higher than their white counterparts. For example, one study in Pediatrics found Black people aged 5 to 24 had a much higher suicide death rate than their white counterparts during the first 10 months of the pandemic (the study compared the suicide rates at the time to those pre-pandemic). And another from the U.S. surgeon general discovered suicide rates in Black children under 12 have risen astronomically in recent years. As a result, Black youth are almost twice as likely to die by suicide as white children.

Other mental health struggles like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and substance use disorders are also much more prevalent among Black and other “minority” youth, especially throughout the pandemic.




Exacerbating the issue is the lack of accessibility to mental health treatment within the Black community. As a result, Black children are less likely to receive life-saving mental health support due to stigma and a lack of diverse providers, the American Psychological Association reported.

A 2020 study found that even if a Black child is fortunate to get mental health support, it’s usually not evidence-based and, as a result, not as effective.



These revolutionary studies explore unchartered territory; connections between Black experiences and mental health challenges haven’t been explored in depth. Experts hope these new findings will help change psychology. And lives.

Another groundbreaking study found Black children were more likely to suffer from “toxic stress,” or the “prolonged exposure to adverse experiences that leads to excessive activation of stress response systems and an accumulation of stress hormones.” Toxic stress has been linked to changes in brain regions connected to PTSD, depression and anxiety.

The study examined MRI scans of Black and white youth around the U.S. and surveys taken by them and their parents about their race, parental education and employment, income, measurements of neighborhood disadvantage and conflicts at home.

“We have the folklore belief that Black and white people just have categorically different brains, but … what we really want to point out here, when we interpret these data, is that these are not children with just different brains,” Nathaniel Harnett, Ph.D. explained to Today. “They’re children with different experiences that shaped and molded how they develop, and how they might develop through to adulthood.”

Harnett, the director of the Neurobiology of Affective Traumatic Experiences Laboratory at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts, and his team analyzed data from more than 7,300 white children and nearly 1,800 Black children between 9 and 10 years old.

The study also discovered white children, on average, experience less family conflict, material hardship, neighborhood disadvantage and fewer traumatic events compared to Black children.

“Individuals exposed to more childhood trauma have a greater risk for developing (PTSD) later in life, suggesting that changes in these brain regions may be particularly important mediators of actually developing that disorder,” Harnett said.

Harnett hopes to continue looking into this alarming disparity to help make it a thing of the past.

“All children are susceptible to these effects of adversity, but … we ultimately really need … changes to the levels of adversity that we expose kids to,” he said. “We really need to pay attention to the groups that are disproportionately affected.”

As for what parents or guardians of Black children can do to support them, both clinical therapist Chase Casine and Dr. Melissa Vallas, a children’s psychiatrist and medical director of Southern California Evolve-PC Residential Treatment Centers, urge them to give themselves some grace and listen to their children.

“I think the first step is just being aware (of) what’s happening, so if you see your child acting out, they don’t necessarily just need a (punishment). Maybe the first step is to just try to have a conversation with them,” Vallas recommended.