Communities across the United States face a chronic epidemic of untreated mental health disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five American adults lives with a diagnosable mental health disorder in any given year; however, only 43 percent of those with mental health disorders receive treatment in any given year.1 In general, the prevalence rates of most mental health disorders are similar across racial and ethnic groups. At the same time, studies of rates of self-related exposure to childhood adversity indicate that members of underrepresented minority groups are more likely to have experienced adversity during childhood — and there is expanding recognition that early exposure to traumatic experiences is itself a risk factor for later health problems, including anxiety and depression.2Even in studies that reveal similar prevalence rates of mental health disorders across racial and ethnic groups, disparities exist with respect to diagnoses and treatment.3
Science is unequivocal, we need each other. Our lives are constellations of relationships: strong and weak; distant or close. We are our happiest selves when we are in relationships that foster mutuality and trust,1 and are in environments that support thriving. We know the structures and supports needed to facilitate the successful operation of both of these sets of relationships— with each other, and with systems. For children to thrive, they need supportive and secure families; for families to thrive, they need supportive and secure neighborhoods. Our last three Champion of Children reports have laid the ground work; here we are bringing it all together with the singular focus of strengthening social fabric in our communities.
Even though, by nature, we require nurture, just how connected are we? How much do we actually support one another, or create institutional arrangements or places that facilitate support and connection? In the age of social media it may feel like we are more connected than ever before, but what of the quality and depth of these connections? Ironically, there is evidence to show that even as our technological connections have increased, we have never been lonelier. 2 When it comes to social media, researchers are finding that it’s the use of the tool, our interactions with it, that matter. For example, in an ongoing longitudinal study of Facebook use, researchers find that it’s not Facebook that creates loneliness—people who experience loneliness on Facebook are lonely away from it as well. It’s how it is used, whether actively (i.e. composed communication such as conversations on your wall, which correlates with decreased loneliness) or passively (i.e. one-click communication by “liking” a post or as your personal “broadcast” of status updates, both of which correlate with increased loneliness).3 But more to the point: “using social media doesn’t create new social networks; it just transfers established networks from one platform to another.”4 The research is clear: face-to-face interactions will always trump virtual interactions.
The Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality works with policymakers, researchers, practitioners, and advo-cates across the country to develop effective policies and prac-tices that alleviate poverty and inequality in the United States. Our Project on Marginalized Girls produces original research and program and policy recommendations aimed at helping improve health and education outcomes for low-income girls and girls of color.
The lead author of this report is Rebecca Epstein, the Exec-utive Director of the Center on Poverty and Inequality; the co-author is Thalia González, Associate Professor at Occi-dental College, currently serving as a Visiting Researcher at Georgetown University Law Center.
The report could not have been written without the expertise lent by many generous experts who agreed to be interviewed – some repeatedly – whose names appear below, and also for the assistance we received from the Yoga Service Council. Help-ful input was also gained from the dialogue that developed at a roundtable meeting on trauma-informed yoga held in October 2015, co-hosted by the Center on Poverty and Inequality and The Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention’s National Girls Initiative in the offices of the American Institutes for Research. We also learned from our two pilot studies, funded by The NoVo Foundation and engaging the expertise, goodwill, and patience of Stephanie Covington, David Emerson, Mary Lynn Fitton, Linda Frisman, Danielle Harris, as well as those who graciously agreed to carry out the pilot study, including Jeannette Pai-Espinosaand Jessie Domingo Salu of The National Crittenton Foundation, Gwendolyn Bailey of Youth Service Inc., and Noelle Kaplan of The Art of Yoga Project. Finally, we extend special gratitude to those who reviewed the report and provided their insight to improve the final result: Stephanie Covington, David Emerson, Mary Lynn Fitton, Karen Gentile, Melissa Pelletier, and Catherine Pierce.