Written by Sureshi Jayawardene
According to a Harris Poll published in May this year, students of color at US universities and colleges are less likely to seek out help for depression or anxiety issues. These students also report experiencing a greater volume of micro-aggressions than White peers. Other factors also pose mental health risks for students of color.
These may include culturally-unrepresentative campus environments, racial discrimination, social stigma, micro-aggressions, marginalization, as well as difficult transitions between home and campus. The brutal realities of racial discrimination on college campuses is no secret, as we have seen in the recent case of Martese Johnson, an African American honor roll student at UVA. Thus, the combined effects of a mix of these factors can result in great academic costs for students. According to a CollegeBoard report from 2013, only 49% of African American students complete their 4-year degree, compared to 71% of White counterparts.
Research also shows a higher prevalence of depression among students of color than White students, suggesting a correlation between persistent college disparities and mental health issues. Further, there lies another discrepancy between the need for treatment and actual utilization of treatment among students of color. This might be explained by additional stereotyping and discrimination experienced when seeking out providers. It might also be explained by the cultural mismatch of providers. Hispanic, African American, and American Indian individuals are half as likely to have health care coverage compared to the average American, adding another dimension to the issue of access to quality mental health services. Access to services, however, has proved extremely beneficial. Studies show that students receiving counseling services are more likely to remain in school and complete their programs within five years of enrollment.
The Steve Fund (TSF) is the nation’s only organization geared toward supporting the mental health needs and emotional wellness of college students of color. TSF works with universities and colleges, researchers, nonprofits, and community groups to develop and support programs and strategies for mental and emotional health as youth of color enter, matriculate in, and transition from higher education. Their mission is to “grow knowledge and thought leadership among researchers, practitioners, young people and national leaders, work in partnership with charitable organizations and educational institutions to promote mental and emotional wellbeing of students of color, build awareness and voice among students.” TSF sponsored this year’s Black Solidarity Conference held in June at Yale and stressed the significance of mental health and wellness for Black college students. Workshops addressed issues ranging from micro-aggressions and on-campus racial discrimination to African American attitudes toward mental illness, attracting more than 700 undergraduates to the conference. Ms. Bell-Rose, co-founder of TSF underscores the importance of culturally sensitive approaches to support mental health and emotional wellbeing. She notes that these culturally specific needs are generally understudied and underserved. TSF aims to positively impact the delivery of mental and behavioral health services to young people of color supporting their academic potential and futures.
The organization recently partnered with Crisis Text Line to provide students of color with mental health support. This initiative is meant to improve critically needed access to crisis counseling among young people of color. Using advancements in mobile technology, TSF with Crisis Text Line, will recruit and train a group of youth of color to become crisis counselors. Text messaging is a central component of TSF’s strategy to meet the mental health needs of college students of color. Operating entirely through text messaging, a unique keyword for youth of color will provide access to free, 24-7 support during a crisis. The service is expected to launch in the winter this year.
For more information, please visit: http://www.stevefund.org/crisistextline
Eisenberg, D., Hunt, J, and Speer, N. (2013). Mental health in American colleges and universities: Variation across student subgroups and across campuses. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 201(1): 60-67