First Advisor

Julie Rosenzweig

Term of Graduation

Spring 2020

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work and Social Research


Social Work




Help-seeking behavior, African American children -- Psychology, African American children -- Mental health



Physical Description

1 online resource (x, 207 pages)


Black American children and adults seeking help for mental health concerns face countless obstacles rooted in systematic oppression, institutional inequalities, and structural disparities; consequently, accessing essential services at much lower rates than their White American counterparts. The unidentified and untreated mental health issues of Black American children and youth can have catastrophic life outcomes for them. Some researchers cite barriers such as stigmatization, negative attitudes toward mental health services, and a lack of culturally relevant treatment models as explanations for these impediments to mental health (help-seeking). It is my contention that these analyses are arguably incomplete, despite having accurate elements. I propose a more realistic topography of the mental health (help-seeking) experiences (MHHSES) for Black American children and their families using the lens of four major theoretical concepts: 1) historical trauma, 2) environmental toxicity, 3) culturally-bound economic insecurity, and 4) cultural mistrust.

This dissertation presents important results from a photo-elicitation interview (PEI) research study designed to gather knowledge about the MHHSES for pre-adolescent Black American children through the voices of 8 public school-based professionals. This arts-based research examination was grounded in an anti-oppressive stance. I identified 12 core themes and 10 major sub-themes focusing on the ecological, economic, and socio-cultural factors that influence the MHHSES of pre-adolescent Black American students living in an urban community on the east coast of the United States. These outcomes offer support for using my major theoretical concepts identified above to expand, comprehend, and fully articulate a unique narrative lived by pre-adolescent Black American children and their families seeking mental health assistance. It is clear that this framework emerging from the study outcomes deserves further investigation in spite of a small sample size and the specific study location.

Finally, I assert that we social workers have an obligation to support and implement anti-oppressive methods when working with Black American children, youth and their families; create more culturally appropriate mentor programs for this population, especially Black American pre-adolescent boys; and craft sound scholarship that deepens an evolving knowledge base about the ecological, economic, and socio-cultural factors that determine their mental health (help-seeking) experiences.


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