There’s an unfortunate tradition within the African American community that conflicts with the benefits of modern medicine and hospital care. Specifically, poor mental health is among the most underdiagnosed illnesses among Black people, primarily because of the stigma attached.
Rather than seeking intervention from a therapist or physician, a common practice for minorities entails reaching out to clergymen and soliciting help from God through prayer and exhortation.
This is a cycle that Kaylin Wesley intends to disrupt after she graduates from UCLA with a degree in psychology, a discipline she decided to pursue at the onset of her decorated college career.
With the knowledge she has attained, Wesley endeavors to identify solutions to the most common, yet under-diagnosed, illnesses affecting the mental health of African American youth
“Black people generally rely on divine intervention or prayer from family and friends to help them through their problems, especially when the problem is related to their health,” she explained during an interview. “We don’t take advantage of crucial resources provided to us by our government. This is primarily attributable to fear and a deep mistrust for our nation’s healthcare system.”
She added, “For the last two years, I’ve been studying mental health in ethnic minority communities. I’ve always had such a passion for helping advance Black youth and the community as a whole.”
“I see a lot of the challenges we face in the education and healthcare system. We experience some of the most adverse life events but we only seek help at half the rate of our White counterparts. One of my goals is to spark the implementation of a new system that accommodates minorities on a physical and social level. People need to be assured that our nation’s healthcare system is reliable and trustworthy. They also need to be informed of their options. Hopefully these initiatives will help to mitigate the stigma surrounding mental health, and the treatment it requires.”
Wesley has focused her undergraduate research around issues related to childhood trauma, mental health and college access. She is a third-generation college student, whose grandmother taught in South Los Angeles and Irvine for 30 years and whose grandfather was a former LAUSD deputy superintendent.
“I come from a family of educators,” she said. “There’s always been a great emphasis on education in my family and the opportunities it can bring to you.
“I’ve been doing well in school my entire life. A lot of that has to do with God’s grace on my life, but also with my parents and family emphasizing how important it is to put your best foot forward and to always do well even if its in the school system.”
In addition to her studies, Wesley serves as a mentor at her former high school where she helps to equip upperclassmen with the tools they need to succeed at the collegiate level.
Two years ago, Kaylin took on the responsibility of primary caregiver for her grandmother, who passed away in February, just months shy of seeing her graduate.
“I was essentially a mom,’ she explained. “I would work 12-hour days and then go home to be reminded that an 89-year-old person is waiting for me and needing me. There were times when I had to sacrifice sleep to get up and help her change her, or console her because she was in pain toward the later ages [of her life].”
Kaylin explained that despite her grandmother’s deteriorating health, she was still able to provide the guidance and wisdom that every young adult needs to develop.
“She [her grandmother] would often ask questions that incited new passions and new directions in my research and career,” Kaylin remembers. “She was an inspiration and motivation.”
Kaylin hopes to go to graduate school and one day launch a think tank to continue the type of research she started at UCLA.
“It’s my dream,” she said. “The goal of the think tank will be to learn more about how Black youth navigate through systems like education, criminal justice, and our healthcare system. I want to learn and implement strategies to make these systems meet the needs of our youth.”
She continued, “You can’t really tackle mental health without tackling under-resourced schools and communities and researching all the different factors that go into the ideology of mental health. That’s how you effect the outcome.”