mental health, Black youth, suicide, Denver, documentary

New Documentary Tackles Black Youth Mental Health

The documentary addresses mental health disparities in Denver as advocates call for increased support amid rising suicide rates among Black youth.

A new documentary directed and produced by Bo Olagbegi is addressing the mental health of Black youth in the Denver area. Voices Unheard: Breaking the Silence on Mental Health in the Black Community was the subject of a panel discussion after its April 25 premiere.  

As Westword reports, Olagbegi is impressed by the youth he profiled in the documentary and called attention to the need to allow young people to tell their own stories about mental health.

“It’s about time for us to stop muting them and thinking that they need to be in a child’s place,” Olagbegi said. “Filming this documentary, just hearing how important it was from the youth to really just have someone to talk to and not judge them, classify them, so on and so forth. And for an increase of 78 percent being the largest in our community for youth and suicide…I would hope it is an awakening and a trigger for something to get done.”

Jason Shankle, a therapist and CEO of Inner Self and Wisdom, as well as executive director of the Coalition for Black Health and Wellness, told the outlet that more Black Mental health experts would help address the stigma around mental healthcare, particularly for Black men.

“It matters sitting down with a Black male therapist, it really does,” Shankle said. “I’ve sat down with many Black men. Ninety percent of the Black men I sit down with, they’re like, ‘It’s been my whole life. This is my first time I’ve ever sat down in therapy.’ That’s not saying that white people can’t do it, but what I will say is there’s cultural competency and there are some areas where white people can’t do it. Some things, it’s just a members-only club. And we need to be more aggressive in our healing in that regard.”

For Tyree Williams, the focus of Olagbegi’s documentary, his outward appearance masked a silent war he was waging inside his own mind. His mother, Laticia Cunningham, mentioned in the documentary that although her son was always smiling and joking, he was also dealing with inner turmoil. Williams died by suicide. He was only 17. 

“Tyree’s road was very different,” Cunningham recalled in the documentary. “At 10, I’m at work — working two jobs—and he was hanging out with his brother, who’s seven years older than him… He was still happy to the world, but inside he had his own struggles and he just had too much free time…and that’s where I started noticing more of the struggle.”

Cunningham continued, “My daughter had a traumatic car accident. Conversations that we had in his 17-year-old mind were that she didn’t see a way that she could make it. Struggling with that was way too much for him. He lost trust in school, he lost trust in the adults that are supposed to be in the position to help youth.”

Derek Hawkins, the dean of students at the Martin Luther King Jr Early College, also discussed how the socioeconomic conditions in America are helping young people get lost in the shuffle of survival.

“To feel that ending your life is the best choice, you’ve got to really see, ‘What is it these kids are going through? What’s the inadequacy? Where is the lack of love? Why don’t we understand that life is beyond being 15, 16, 17 years old?'” Hawkins said.

“It is an epidemic amongst our kids today, and it is something that everybody — not just the schools—everybody needs to pay attention to,” he added. “They don’t have the love at home. Mom and Dad are working two and three jobs because this country is so expensive to live in now. And we expect our little kids to do something to raise their self in a world that’s against them. It’s not right. The whole thing needs to be overhauled.”