It’s important to recognize how critical mental health is to overall life satisfaction and student success. For many students, college is a time of excitement and adventure, but it can also be stressful. Students face daily anxieties, from paying for school to getting good grades to finding friends. And as the pandemic has also illustrated, students’ mental health is majorly impacted by national events. College students in the US experienced prolonged stress and uncertainties following the initial coronavirus outbreak in March 2020 as many colleges rushed to close campuses, leaving students to socially isolate and transition to online learning. A study by the American College Health Association found that 48% of college students reported moderate or severe psychological stress, 53% reported being lonely, and one in four had considered self-harm.
While all students experience stress to a certain degree, stress for students of color is often magnified due to systemic racism. Many experience daily racial microaggressions that make it increasingly challenging to feel as if they belong on campus. Mental health support for students of color is a priority for many colleges, but supporting these students involves a coordinated approach between campuses and their local communities. If you’re looking for mental health support as a student of color or want to help students find support, here’s what you should know about the unique mental health experiences of people of color and resources to look out for.
How mental health struggles differ for students of color
While many colleges have tried to create more mental health resources on campus and encourage a culture of seeking out and asking for help, finding mental health support for students of color can be complicated. Many students of color report there’s often a stigma associated with seeking counseling and therapy, and many struggle to find therapists or counselors who understand their lived experiences.
Additionally, national events like the murder of George Floyd also impact students of color psychologically; studies show that constant exposure to victimization and trauma by minority groups increases their levels of anxiety and stress. A study by the Healthy Minds Network found that mental health of students of color has gotten worse, with a 135% increase in depression and a 110% increase in anxiety. Minority students face a range of additional stressors caused by racism, stereotype threat, imposter syndrome, and financial challenges such as finding money for college, resources to help family members with expenses, and viable sources of employment.
On top of all this, there are very few counselors of color on many college campuses, which often leads students to be fearful that the person helping them doesn’t understand their unique experiences and needs. If students are already encountering racism and discrimination within the larger campus environment, it may be hard to feel as if on-campus mental health services are accepting and welcoming. Generally, the utilization of counselors by students of color is very low. Many students also experience a lack of quality care and regularly navigate biases and discrimination from health professionals.
Resources for students of color
One of the most common struggles of accessing mental health resources is knowing what’s available and to whom it’s offered. Here are some examples of great resources students of color should be utilizing on and off campus.
1. On-campus multicultural or diversity centers
If you’re a student of color, your school’s multicultural or diversity center could connect you to mental health services specifically for BIPOC students. In 2020, many colleges recognized the need to increase mental health services for these students due to the global pandemic and incidences of continued systemic racism. As we move forward, many colleges are now recognizing mental health as a DEI issue and creating targeted support services for students of color. For example, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte launched the Multicultural Mental Health & Equity Initiative, a program designed to provide multifaceted mental health and wellness services to students of color—including a variety of counseling services. The services are available to all enrolled students at no additional charge. These centers also provide safe spaces for students to connect with students, staff, and faculty who share their lived experience and identities.
2. The National Alliance on Mental Illness
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is the largest grassroots mental health organization in the country, focused on empowering communities through mental health programs, advocacy, and education. The organization hosts support groups for those struggling with mental health and caregiver opportunities. Additionally, they also hold annual public awareness events like Mental Health Awareness Week and NAMIWalks to help fight the stigma associated with mental health. For those facing a crisis, the NAMI Helpline is available as a source of information, support, and referrals to local clinicians.
3. Melanin & Mental Health
Melanin & Mental Health is committed to increasing access to culturally competent resources and clinicians. The organization has a directory of life coaches, psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists that allows students to search clinicians by appointment type (in person or virtual). The site also includes a list of print and digital resources with self-care and mental health tips as well as a list of podcasts focused on mental health.
4. The Liberate app
There are many meditation apps that exist, but the Liberate app is specifically designed for communities of color. The meditations address topics on healing from microaggressions and acknowledging your cultural heritage. While meditation is not a replacement for therapy, it has shown to be advantageous in improving mood and decreasing anxiety and depression.
5. National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network
To properly care for the mental health of students of color, intersectionality is important to consider too. The National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network focuses on alleviating health equities for queer and transgender people of color. This network includes a resource list of online support and organizations as well as a mental health directory of therapists who identify as queer or transgender and/or who have experience in helping LGBTQIA populations. The network also has a mental health fund that provides financial assistance, and recipients of this fund are able to get up to eight covered sessions with a psychotherapist. The site includes links to other BIPOC therapist networks as well, including the Latinx Therapist Directory and the Black Virtual Wellness Directory.
Taking care of your mental health is important to your success as a student and overall life satisfaction. While it can be intimidating to seek out mental health support—especially for students of color—there are plenty of opportunities both on and off campus to receive culturally relevant and sensitive assistance. Don’t put your mental health on the backburner until you burn out! Start taking care of yourself today.
If the stress of the world and school is a little too much right now, you can find more support and resources with Our Best Advice for Dealing With Stress as a Student.