Redefine and Unlearn: BIPOC Youth Destigmatize Mental Health in their Community

Redefine and Unlearn: BIPOC Youth Destigmatize Mental Health in their Community

Susan K. Gurley, Executive Director

Susan K. Gurley, Executive Director

Susan Gurley is the Executive Director of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), a non-profit international mental health association. She is a lawyer and advocate with 25 years of leadership experience working in the mental health and access to justice fields, international development and legal reform, and higher education administration.

Prior to joining ADAA, Ms. Gurley held senior-level positions in several U.S. government agencies, such as the United States Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Ms. Gurley served as both the Assistant Dean for International and Graduate Programs, at the Georgetown University School of Law and as an Adjunct Faculty Member. While at Georgetown she created the International Human Rights and National Security Law Certificate Programs. Ms. Gurley also worked as the Deputy Executive Director of Equal Justice Works, and as the Director of Legal Reform at the East West Management Institute (EWMI), where she managed several overseas offices, created  EWMI’s first land reform program, and expanded programming to Asia. She also ran the Association of Corporate Business Travel Executives, where she opened the association’s first office in Latin America and testified before Congress on privacy issues. 

Ms. Gurley has extensive non-profit Board experience. She has served on the Boards of Film Aid International, on the Board of the Conflict Resolution Center of Montgomery County, and currently serves on the Executive Committee of the International Executive Service Corps (IESC). She also serves on the Advisory Committee for Her Wealth, an organization promoting financial literacy for women. 

Over the past five years, she has served as a technical expert volunteer on capacity building projects in Cambodia, Philippines, and Tanzania. For her volunteer work, she has been awarded the Frank Pace award by IESC as well as the 2020 Innovator of the Year award by USAID’s Farmer- to- Farmer program. 

Ms. Gurley is a Phi Beta Kappa and received her law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. She is a member of the Virginia Bar. Ms. Gurley has worked in 30+ countries and speaks French, German, and Hungarian. 

Email Susan.

Redefine and Unlearn: BIPOC Youth Destigmatize Mental Health in their Community

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Redefine and Unlearn: BIPOC Youth Destigmatize Mental Health in their Community

In a world that is constantly evolving, BIPOC youth are actively working to change the way their communities acknowledge and embrace mental health. Youth (defined here as those between the ages of 15 to 24) are redefining what mental health means and are trying to “unlearn” some of the negative stigmas that have been taught or demonstrated by older generations.  

Youth of color experience both direct and indirect harm to their mental health and well-being from racialized police violence and immigration enforcement, which can trigger a stress response that can accumulate over time, adding to existing social and cultural harms based on race and ethnicity.1 Add the negative impact on mental health from the pandemic, whether that be stress or loneliness, and there is no surprise that mental health issues among BIPOC youth are increasing.  

In 2020, Black and Latiné children were 14 percent less likely than White children to receive treatment for their depression.1 And LGBTQ+ youth from American Indian and Alaskan Native backgrounds were 2.5 times more likely to report a suicide attempt in the same year, compared to their non-Native LGBTQ+ peers.2  

Unfortunately, BIPOC youth are no strangers to navigating cultural pressures and generational stigmas passed on from adults; but because of social media, technology, and the vast amount of accessible information at the fingertips of the younger generation, these youth seem more open to discussing and seeking out mental health support than their previous generation. Even though many cultures within the BIPOC community associate weakness with mental health needs, BIPOC youth have found—through exploring social media—that they are not alone in their mental health experience and journey.

It takes a lot of courage and strength to consciously unlearn and destigmatize mental health as a young member of the BIPOC community. Unlearning is defined as the process through which we break down the origins of our thoughts, attitudes, behaviors, feelings, and biases.3 It is a hard process, but it can be extremely powerful and beneficial to mental wellbeing over time. There is not a perfect way to practice the process. Some people work best alone, and others work best with help from a support system or mental health professional. Regardless of who is there, unlearning encourages the change in one’s mindset to move away from "this is the way things are supposed to be" to embracing "this is the way things are". 

Today BIPOC youth are beginning to embrace mental health and recognize that everyone experiences in their own unique way, at some point in their life. Instead of being ashamed of their mental health, they are leveraging social media platforms like Twitter and Tik Tok to find other community resources to educate themselves and to also share uncomfortable feelings or experiences.  

Once BIPOC youth realize they are not alone in their experiences, they feel less isolated and more open to sharing their own story. Younger people are finding out that there is power in leaning on community members to sort through uncomfortable mental health feelings. Today’s youth continue to lead the charge in leveraging community support and the power of technology and social media to help destigmatize mental health within their communities.  

If you are interested in learning more about anxiety and depression and how that can impact mental health, check out ADAA’s resources to help.  

Share Your Story and Voice and Help #breakthestigma Around Mental Health.

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Footnotes: 

  1. National Black Women's Justice Institute (NBWJI). www.nbwji.org. Contextualizing BIPOC Youth Mental Health.
  2. The Trevor Project. www.thetrevorproject.org. American Indian/Alaskan Native Youth Suicide Risk.
  3. Psychology Today. www.psychologytoday.com. The Power of Unlearning.  

Susan K. Gurley, Executive Director

Susan K. Gurley, Executive Director

Susan Gurley is the Executive Director of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), a non-profit international mental health association. She is a lawyer and advocate with 25 years of leadership experience working in the mental health and access to justice fields, international development and legal reform, and higher education administration.

Prior to joining ADAA, Ms. Gurley held senior-level positions in several U.S. government agencies, such as the United States Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Ms. Gurley served as both the Assistant Dean for International and Graduate Programs, at the Georgetown University School of Law and as an Adjunct Faculty Member. While at Georgetown she created the International Human Rights and National Security Law Certificate Programs. Ms. Gurley also worked as the Deputy Executive Director of Equal Justice Works, and as the Director of Legal Reform at the East West Management Institute (EWMI), where she managed several overseas offices, created  EWMI’s first land reform program, and expanded programming to Asia. She also ran the Association of Corporate Business Travel Executives, where she opened the association’s first office in Latin America and testified before Congress on privacy issues. 

Ms. Gurley has extensive non-profit Board experience. She has served on the Boards of Film Aid International, on the Board of the Conflict Resolution Center of Montgomery County, and currently serves on the Executive Committee of the International Executive Service Corps (IESC). She also serves on the Advisory Committee for Her Wealth, an organization promoting financial literacy for women. 

Over the past five years, she has served as a technical expert volunteer on capacity building projects in Cambodia, Philippines, and Tanzania. For her volunteer work, she has been awarded the Frank Pace award by IESC as well as the 2020 Innovator of the Year award by USAID’s Farmer- to- Farmer program. 

Ms. Gurley is a Phi Beta Kappa and received her law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. She is a member of the Virginia Bar. Ms. Gurley has worked in 30+ countries and speaks French, German, and Hungarian. 

Email Susan.

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