From your perspective as a practitioner and a parent to two adolescents—how are the kids?
THAO: I would say the kids are resilient, but the kids need support to continue to be resilient and to thrive. Our kids have had to go through COVID, social unrest, war, and lots of other social changes and challenges. They survived and they thrived. Our kids are resilient, but we need to continue to provide them with the support that they need in the evolving environment that they live in.
Why is it so important for children and adolescents to receive culturally sensitive and appropriate mental health services?
THAO: It makes such a big difference, not just to the child, but for the entire family. For providers, before you can even start helping the child, you have to help the parents or guardians feel comfortable with who you are. If they don’t feel like their therapist or provider understands them, or has the capacity to invite diversity and differences, they’re not going to come for services, and seeking and accepting services is one of the biggest barriers in healthcare. As a person of color who is also a therapist, that’s been the biggest factor to success with clients, being able to be open to diversity, being flexible to different cultures. That openness opens so many doors.
How can parents, caregivers, and policy makers support kids’ mental health?
THAO: Human beings are very complex; and that’s a little bit different from being complicated. When something is complicated, it means that you don’t understand it. If it’s complicated, with time, you can understand it, and then it’s no longer complicated. But when something is complex, it means that there are many things woven together. It’s this tangled ball of yarn. Adolescence is a complex time. The best way that I can describe the support adolescents need is “allow space”—for discovery, for some of this complexity to work itself out. And, we have to listen. That’s the biggest thing—just listen. Ask them what part of that big, old, tangled ball of yarn they want to start with.
Do you feel hopeful about the future for our kids?
THAO: Even though we’ve gone through a lot, even though young people today have experienced things that we’ve never imagined and have never experienced before, there is just so much positivity with our adolescents. I need people to understand that this is our future, and they are so bright and resilient. And with some help and some support, and by listening to them, they will take us to places we’ve never imagined.
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