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The suicide rate among Black children remains high. An expert urges families to seek help

 Veronica James is the CEO and founder of Our Children Our Future in Hollywood, Fla.
Courtesy of Our Children Our Future, Inc.
Veronica James is the CEO and founder of Our Children Our Future in Hollywood, Fla.

The founder of a nonprofit that provides counseling to Black and Caribbean families avoids the word "mental" and prefers "emotional" health: "And emotional health is like physical health — seeking help is OK."

Mental health shouldn't be seen as different from physical health. Think of the brain as just needing some extra attention.

"When someone even describes any symptoms around depression or anxiety, there tends to be that pulling back," said Veronica James, founder and CEO of Our Children Our Future in Hollywood. "That really is very unfortunate because it prevents many people from getting the preventive services they need that could also safeguard them from more serious mental disturbances later in life.

Our Children Our Future is a non-profit agency that provides counseling, and caters to Black and Caribbean families. They see clients regardless of whether they have health insurance.

"We make every attempt to help families experience the feeling that it's OK, there's nothing wrong with you," James said. "The same way as we would look at someone who has diabetes or someone who was diagnosed with hypertension, we don't hesitate to go to the doctor. We don't hesitate to take medication, but when it's affecting our brain, we somehow see that as it's a no-no."

James said she tries to avoid the word "mental" because it has a negative connotation. Instead, she prefers emotional health.

"Everyone has emotions. That is how we relate to others. We help children to understand that your emotions are OK. If you get annoyed or you get angry, that's OK. What's not OK is when that anger leads you to make impulsive decisions, when that emotion leads you to do something that will hurt yourself or hurt others," she said. "That's when we really begin to connect with those children and help them to understand their emotions, to cope with them, to manage them and to deal with them more effectively."

James said parents from the Caribbean often brush off the symptoms they may see in their children, since families are often expected to be self-sufficient. When they do reach out to get help for their child, James and her colleagues congratulate them for taking the step.

"One of the first things we say to them is we’re so glad you called," James said. "But our organization is now facing a crisis in building the capacity that we need now to address the number of referrals that are coming in. This pandemic has really opened the floodgates for more emotional disturbances."

You can find more information about Our Children Our Health here.

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Verónica Zaragovia
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