2024 Equity Challenge Day 18: The Mental Health Crisis Facing Young People of Color

Mental health is the defining public health crisis of our time.

Dr. Vivek Murthy

U.S. Surgeon General
▶ LISTEN TO DAY 18 – 6:38

Today’s entry was written by The Steve Fund, one of our Equity Challenge Community Group Partner Organizations. Learn more about The Steve Fund at the bottom of this entry.

Mental health has often been described as the ability to adapt to change and cope with stress. Change and stress are a part of everyone’s life, yet sometimes they can become overwhelming and lead to mental health challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated and shined a spotlight on the mental health challenges facing young people in this country, with a particular focus on what U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy called in his 2021 public health report, “the extent and severity of the mental health crisis on racial and ethnic minority, sexual and gender minority, and marginalized young people.” The CDC reports that in 2021, more than four in 10 students felt persistently sad or hopeless and nearly one-third experienced poor mental health.

Young people of color may experience mental health challenges differently due to various societal and cultural factors, including discrimination, systemic inequality and stigma surrounding mental health, but they are less likely to seek help for their mental health needs. The good news is people can take steps to reduce the risk of stressful situations and protect their mental health. By providing support (“protective factors”) early on when someone experiences negative life events (“risk factors,”), we can help prevent a mental health crisis.

Risk Factors:

  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)
  • Being bullied or cyberbullied
  • Financial stress
  • Homophobia and transphobia
  • Mental health or health care stigma
  • Isolation
  • Racial discrimination and xenophobia
  • Violence exposure as a victim or witness
  • Physical and mental illnesses
  • Loss of a loved due to death or the ending of a relationship
  • Multiple oppressed sociocultural identities, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, ability or class

Protective Factors:

  • Attention from caring and responsible adults
  • Coping skills
  • Family support
  • Peer support
  • Physical and mental health care
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Social connections in school and community
  • Support groups
  • Unconditional love
  • Stress reduction via meditation or exercise

The resources provided in this email are intended to raise awareness of risk factors and offer actionable guidance for ways to build protective factors that support the mental health and well-being of young people of color in your community.

The Steve Fund is one of the nation’s leading organizations focused on promoting the mental health and emotional well-being of young people of color. Its CEO, David R. McGhee, lives in the Detroit area with his family and is a senior fellow with the Institute for Nonprofit Practice.




  • This TED Talk highlights the mental health journey for a young person of color coping with intergenerational trauma. (7 minutes)
  • This brief animation on managing depressive disorders discusses self-help strategies for coping with depression. (1.5 minutes)


  • The Breaking the Silence Series was designed by The Steve Fund’s mental health experts to provide young people of color with knowledge and tools to understand and find support for four mental health disorders: anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar. (various times based on course)


Reflect And Share

  1. Since young people of color are, in many ways, just like other people, what do you think are the pressures or stressors that young people of color face that may make their journey significantly different from other groups?
  2. Immersing oneself in culture is a protective factor for mental well-being in young people. What are some aspects of culture that are restorative for you, and how can you create spaces for others to immerse themselves in cultural assets?
  3. Young people of color have rates of mental illness similar to other groups; however, their use of mental health services is lower. What might be some of the reasons for this disparity in using mental health services?


Start the conversation. Send the tweet. Share your story. Make the Facebook post. Sharing what you learn and experience with your family, friends, and co-workers is the first step toward allyship.

Join thousands in conversation by using hashtag #RiseToTheChallenge.