Now Reading
Mental-Health Concerns for Black and Brown Students on Campus

Mental-Health Concerns for Black and Brown Students on Campus

College campuses have been under pressure to meet student’s mental-health needs, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. Counseling centers and clinicians who work with students are now seeing a significant increase in anxiety, depression, and behavioral disorders. There are also less-visible problems like stress, attention deficit, and more that have an impact on academic performance. It’s crucial that leadership on college campuses understands these challenges and knows how to intervene.

According to the National Education Association, nearly 100,000 students across 133 campuses participated in a survey that showed 44 percent of students reported symptoms of depression; 37 percent experienced anxiety; 15 percent considered suicide. The rates of depression and anxiety among Black students have been increasing at an overwhelming rate. When mental illness goes untreated, academic performance is hindered, as well as the student’s social and emotional well-being.

Students are very much feeling disconnected from a lot of things — from classes, from their friends, and from families. That could have a huge impact upon other areas of their lives. Sometimes, however, it’s not as easy to detect what’s clearly a crisis.

I have taught in higher education for 15 years, with the last 10 of those years fully online. The average age of my students is 35 years old, and the majority are current and prior-service military. Some of my students will soon be separating and have tremendous stress about what they are going to do next.

There are a separate set of challenges associated with students attending online classes. They feel isolated and have no interaction with their classmates, other than Zoom. In fully remote learning environments, many students can face challenges with limited internet or technology access. Loss of a loved one, homelessness, financial hardships, racial discrimination, or moving back in with aging parents all contribute to the steep rise we’re seeing in poor mental health.

A study from the National Institutes of Health found that approximately 34 percent of Black students reported feeling “so depressed in the last year it was difficult to function.” Black students attending HBCUs have also been dealing with the additional stress of bomb threats at their universities and suddenly not having access to abortion services in the wake of Roe v. Wade — Black women are disproportionately affected by this.

Eighty-six HBCUs are in states that have already restricted access to abortion, and many more are in the process of challenging reproductive rights, a factor that completely adds to the stress and anxiety Black students are already experiencing. 

The pandemic has certainly increased the mental strain on a generation of college students already reporting record levels of psychological challenges. Black students need mental health services — both talk therapy and sometimes medication — now more than ever, but with the increase in students seeking counseling, some universities are having trouble meeting their needs. 

Racial disparities exist on college campuses, despite increasing rates of college admissions and enrollment among Black and Brown students. On campus, students are more likely to encounter people of color in service jobs than in faculty or leadership positions. I receive emails from Black students all the time letting me know they are excited to have a Black professor. I don’t take that lightly, and it reinforces the fact that representation matters. That connection alone sometimes makes all the difference between a student pushing through my class or giving up.

The truth is, the coronavirus crisis highlights the fragility of a system that even before the pandemic was not doing enough to meet students’ needs. Here in California, college campuses have responded by moving therapy appointments online and using state grants to add services.

The question is: What can colleges and universities do to better support Black and Brown students?

I believe a first step is creating an environment in which they can feel supported and included. This begins with recruiting and retaining diverse faculty and staff. More important is the need to hire culturally competent mental health providers from diverse cultural backgrounds. It is possible to invest in initiatives that improve equity and inclusion on campus, even though they are in jeopardy in some states. When programs like this exist, they support social support and feeling a sense of belonging, as well as cultural pride. This is also important within the distance learning space.

As a faculty member, I am privy to many firsthand accounts of my Black students’ struggles to thrive in a predominantly white environment. I also hear the stories of challenges at home and how they are trying to cope. In certain situations, school is the only outlet they have. Those who are struggling with multiple burdens associated with being a Black student must be protected by their campuses and offered proper resources and help.

The process of students’ healing from mental-health challenges requires significant internal commitment and external support. Black and Brown college students are brilliant, talented, and creative, and they dream as big as other students. Pursuing higher education should not cause them to suffer in silence.

What's Your Reaction?
In Love
Not Sure
Scroll To Top