Step-Up: Promoting Youth Mental Health and Development in Inner-City High Schools

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By bhadmin February 2, 2021

African American and Latino youth who reside in inner-city communities are at heightened risk for compromised mental health, as their neighborhoods are too often associated with serious stressors, including elevated rates of poverty, substance abuse, community violence, as well as scarce youth-supportive resources, and mental health care options. Many aspects of disadvantaged urban contexts have the potential to thwart successful youth development. Adolescents with elevated mental health needs may experience impaired judgment, poor problem-solving skills, and conflictual interpersonal relationships, resulting in unsafe sexual behavior and drug use. However, mental health services are frequently avoided by urban adolescents who could gain substantial benefit from care. Thus, the development of culturally sensitive, contextually relevant and effective services for urban, low-income African American and Latino adolescents is critical. Given the complexity of the mental health and social needs of urban youth, novel approaches to service delivery may need to consider individual (i.e., motivation to succeed in the future), family (i.e., adult support within and outside of the family), and community-level (i.e., work and school opportunities) clinical components. Step-Up, a high school-based mental health service delivery model has been developed to bolster key family, youth and school processes related to youth mental health and positive youth development. Step-Up (1) intervenes with urban minority adolescents across inner-city ecological domains; (2) addresses multiple levels (school, family and community) in order to target youth mental health difficulties; and (3) provides opportunities for increasing youth social problem-solving and life skills. Further, Step-Up integrates existing theory-driven, evidence-based interventions. This article describes Step-Up clinical goals, theoretical influences, as well as components and key features, and presents preliminary data on youth engagement for two cohorts of students.

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