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Mental Health Care for Students of Color: What’s Missing and What Colleges Can Do

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Mental health is critical, especially during a time like college, when schoolwork, social pressures, and other life factors can make it easy to let self-care fall by the wayside. What’s often not discussed is the disparity between white students’ access to mental health services and the more limited access people of color have to those services, even on college campuses.

While you might be asking how that could be true, as students of color have access to the same university health center and counseling students as white students, that’s where the problem lies. Mental health systems — and healthcare systems in general — are built and tailored to prioritize the white experience. That, combined with the stigma that some communities of color experience around mental health and their wariness of the healthcare system, can result in students of color not being served in the way they deserve — in the way that their white peers routinely are.

The adult Black American is 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems compared to the national average, but only 25% seek mental health care, compared to 45% of white people. This is clearly emblematic of a larger problem. So what can college campuses do to address it and provide care for all of their students?

Address Systemic Racism in Your Institution

Even if you think your campus and your counseling services are immune to biases, it isn’t enough to simply not be racist. Successful change occurs when systems are actively anti-racist and consistently combat the inherent systemic racism.

By acknowledging areas of improvement, paying attention to sensitivity, and encouraging participation from staff of color in shaping policies, colleges and healthcare systems can begin to improve their environments.

Hire Staff of Color

Hiring staff of color is a part of addressing any institution’s systemic racism — healthcare or otherwise, but it also does much more than that. Not only does it encourage inclusivity in the industry of healthcare, but it also serves to help students and patients of color feel comfortable and heard.

Many patients prefer to see a therapist or counselor who aligns with their background so they don’t have to explain their own experiences to someone who might not understand. This is considered the default relationship between white patients and counselors, and it should be an option for patients of color, too — perhaps even more so, as having a marginalized identity can come with unique experiences and traumas that require a more nuanced understanding.

Work to Understand Their Experiences

Whether a staff member of color meets with a student of color or a white staff member does, it’s vital to ensure that the staff as a whole are sensitive and empathetic to each student’s unique lived experience and traumas. This requirement holds even if it means doing independent research to be attentive to their testimonies — including ones that differ from that staff member’s perspective or personal experience. Understanding each individual’s personal experience is important with every patient, but it can make a world of difference when working with students of color.

Encourage Feedback

Another thing colleges can do to address issues of systemic racism is create avenues for constructive criticism. It is just as important to invite students of color who seek on-campus mental health services to share their opinions on how to make the practice better as it is to ask students of color who don’t use these services what keeps them away. By opening a dialogue with the campus community and encouraging students to share what would make them more comfortable, universities can apply that feedback to tailor treatment to their students of color.

Tailor Treatment to Students of Color

Tailoring treatment to patients and students of color is crucial. All people seeking mental health services deserve to have a personalized treatment experience that is culturally appropriate and effective for them. By understanding the experiences of students of color, obtaining background knowledge and remaining open-minded, mental health staff can better treat these consistently.

Often, this comes down to education and cultural competency. When mental health professionals understand their patients, it takes less emotional labor for them to explain their experience. Therapists and counselors should serve their clients and patients, not demand more effort from them to receive appropriate treatment.

How to Better Care for Students of Color

Mental health is important for every population and demographic. When certain communities consistently have less access to required resources, it should be the systems providing those services that do the work to correct the issue. Whether those systems are university health centers or hospitals, everyone deserves proper care.



About the Author: Ginger Abbot is a lifestyle and learning writer who talks about mental health, career development and personal growth. Read more of her work on Classrooms, where she serves as Editor and contributing writer.

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Unsplash

Resources to Recover and Our Sponsor Laurel House, Inc. Celebrate Black History Month

February is Black History Month, a time for celebrating the outstanding achievements of Blacks and African Americans and their central role in US history. It is also a time to recognize the struggles Black people have faced throughout the history of this nation and give tribute to the strength and resilience of generations of Black Americans who have risen above adversity.

Black History Month originated from an idea by Harvard-educated historian Carter G. Woodson, who wrote the Journal of Negro History in 1916 to herald the achievements of overlooked African Americans in US history and culture. In 1926 he led an effort by the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History (ASALH) to officially declare the second week of February as “Negro History Week.” These dates align with the birthdays of two crucial figures in Black American history: Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809), who signed the Emancipation Proclamation officially ending slavery in the United States, and the Black American abolitionist and author Frederick Douglass (February 14, 1818), an escaped slave who is widely considered the most influential civil and human rights advocate of the 19th century. In 1976, President Gerald Ford gave official governmental recognition to the observance by declaring February “Black History Month.”

Without the contributions of Blacks and African Americans to more than 500 years of US history, culture, entertainment and the arts, science, athletics, industry and the economy, public service, and the Armed Forces, we would not be the country we are today.

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios only.

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