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US study probes race, faith, and mental health of young people

03 March 2023

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MORE than half of all young people of colour in the United States say that their faith is important to their mental health, a new survey suggests.

A study of young people in the US suggests that while young black, indigenous, people of colour (BIPOC) have similar rates of anxiety and depression as their white peers, they are more likely to say that they are flourishing in their faith lives than white young people.

Springtide Research collected data from nearly 6000 young people in the US aged 13 to 25 — half of whom identified as BIPOC — for the report Navigating Injustice: A closer look at race, faith and mental health.

When asked about what supported their mental health, more than half of young BIPOCs (58 per cent) said that their faith mattered, compared with 52 per cent of white people.

But the same young people also told researchers that they wanted their racial identity to be acknowledged and celebrated by their religious leaders.

May, a 20-year-old Black African American, told researchers: “When churches or religious institutions fail to acknowledge that there are parts of people’s identity that need to be addressed, it’s just . . . you need to see them and hear their pain. It’s from a place of extreme privilege for your church to never acknowledge the very real identities that are impacted by what’s going on in the world today.

“It’s not just on the news. It’s real, it’s in people’s real lives, it’s affecting them. To ignore race is almost to ask people to not bring that part of themselves into this space.”

Lauren, a 15-year-old Asian American, said: “Race is what makes you you. So if your religious leader wants to separate race, if they’re not making you want to embrace your ethnicity, I feel like they haven’t really seen who you are.”

Nabil Tueme, a researcher for SpringTide Research, said: “In interviews, young BIPOC told us that, despite the challenges they face, they find safety, hope, and purpose in their faith. This may come as a surprise given the prevailing narrative that young Americans are fleeing the pews. In our survey, however, over half of young BIPOC agreed that their faith matters for their mental health. And for many young BIPOC, faith isn’t a siloed part of their identity: it is closely coupled with their racial/ethnic identity.”

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