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Minority students see disproportionate struggle with mental health on college campuses

Less than half of African-American students rated their first semester experience as good or excellent, compared to 62 percent of white students. And 41 percent of African-American students reported thoughts of transferring, compared with 23 percent of white students.

Alfiee Breland-Noble, an associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University who is on staff with the Steve Fund, one of the organizations that conducted the study, said already existing unrelated stigmas could dissuade someone from seeking care.

“If you’re already dealing with those kinds of stressors, racial stressors in particular, then you don’t want to layer on top of that this idea of being ‘crazy,’” she said.

Enrique Neblett, an associate professor of psychology at UNC who studies racism-related health in minority youth, said a lack of diversity in health centers also contributes to minority students’ reluctance in seeking care.

“Sometimes people feel like the services that they receive and the people that they’re going to get help from may not understand their situation or the challenges that they face,” Neblett said.

Dr. Victor Schwartz, the medical director of the JED Foundation, which also helped conduct the survey, said schools should focus on having staff that are very well-versed in communicating with different constituencies on campus.

“The more we can get different groups of students and school administrators, counselors and clinicians speaking to each other, the greater the understanding and sensitivity they’ll have for each other’s needs and limitations,” Schwartz said.

Dr. Allen O’Barr, director of Counseling and Psychology Services at UNC, said he recognizes there may be a perceived bias in predominantly white institutions, and CAPS is working to increase diversity in its staff.

“But I can tell you that if we’re under-representative ... it’s also because the applications that are coming in are predominantly white,” he said.

O’Barr said he thinks providing outreach hours targeted at minority students could create a more culturally comfortable environment so students could receive treatment without going to CAPS, but resources are limited.

“We’re really concentrating on just dealing with crises as people come in,” he said. “We don’t have the resources to be able to step out on a weekly basis and do outreach hours in another location, even though we’d very much like to do that.”

Schwartz said colleges face difficulty in responding to these studies, and the next goal is to investigate what solutions are being pursued by colleges.

“We need to see if we can come up with a series of recommendations that we could share with all of the schools in the United States,” he said.

Neblett said student input is vital to reforms.

“I think it’s very easy a lot of times for folks who are so-called experts to say here’s what we need to do, but I think it’s really important that it be a collaborative process,” he said. “Students have to be a part of the solution.”

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