By: Habeebah Rasheed Grimes
I write to you as a lifelong Clevelander, a community and nonprofit leader and, most pressingly, as a mother of two beautiful Black boys who call this city home. I write to you with urgency, and hope you might share in my urgency, for a more equitable community that effectively recognizes and responds to the epidemic of hopelessness and despair in our region by ensuring Cleveland’s youngest community members have access to adequately resourced, culturally responsive and healing-centered mental health and supportive services.
An historical analysis of survey data indicated that the number of teenagers reporting bouts of sadness or feelings of hopelessness was up more than 20 percent in 2019 compared with data from 2010.
The evidence of a behavioral health crisis among our young people abounds, and this crisis has been exacerbated by COVID-19 and the struggle for racial justice that has unfolded over the past year and a half. In fact, well before these dual pandemics wreaked havoc on our community, we were alerted to the extent of our kids’ mental health troubles by way of the 2019 Youth Risk Behaviors Survey. An historical analysis of survey data indicated that the number of teenagers reporting bouts of sadness or feelings of hopelessness was up more than 20 percent in 2019 compared with data from 2010. In 2017, this same survey indicated that teens in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District were more likely to attempt suicide than in any other city in the country. Sadly, the profound pain youth have been experiencing has intensified because of our current realities.
The pain our children are sharing with us is not surprising. Far too many Cleveland neighborhoods bear the scars of despair and disinvestment. Children are most vulnerable to our collective inaction as they navigate critical periods of brain development during which their brains are establishing the templates for who they are and what they mean to society. Their experiences are leading them to conclude that they don’t mean much.
Our next mayor must make children’s mental health a priority for the sake of current and future generations. We need decisive leadership to ensure young people have access to diverse, multi-lingual mental health practitioners in whom they can see themselves. Our mayor must be a lead voice for the adequate funding of mental health care so that it is comprehensive and responsive to the needs of our community’s kids.
We need decisive leadership to ensure young people have access to diverse, multi-lingual mental health practitioners in whom they can see themselves.
As we build mental health capacity, the next administration of city government must also support and ensure funding for programs and services that hold the line for Cleveland’s children, providing them the relational connectedness that buffers them against the stressors they encounter daily.
And most critically, we absolutely must address the root causes of children’s suffering in Cleveland—racism and poverty, which have harmed generation after generation.
I hold no illusions that our future mayor alone can solve the mental health crisis we see happening among our youth. There are many concerned mental health providers alongside parents, educators and community members who are ready to support our city in ending this crisis and helping our kids heal. We need a mayor who will lead the way in advocacy, priority-setting and resource allocation. I pray that mayor is you.
Habeebah Rasheed Grimes
Chief Executive Officer
Positive Education Program