Minority Mental Health Awareness: Mental Health Support for Black and African American Students

The month of July is set aside to observe Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. This year, it feels more important than ever to shine a light on the diverse needs of this underrepresented community due to the ongoing mental health crisis that has been exacerbated, in part, by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Members of racial and ethnic minority groups in the United States have historically experienced unprecedented barriers to mental and behavioral healthcare that are both unreported and unassessed. If these barriers are not constructively addressed, they will continue to affect the care this community receives, leading to an endless cycle of ineffective treatment and poor clinical outcomes. Mental health clinicians and behavioral health providers must understand the unique needs of this underserved population, so treatment is more readily available and equitable for everyone. 

One subset of the community that may run into even more barriers to accessing adequate mental health care are Black and African American students. In general, post-secondary programs are often underfunded and understaffed, however, students of color who seek out counseling services may encounter professionals who are not familiar with the role that cultural affiliation and race play in a student’s mental health.

Read on to learn more about various types of mental health support services available post-secondary students, barriers to support, and a list of resources for Black and African American students, courtesy of For a direct link to their original blog, please click here.

Types of Mental Health Support for Minority Students

Black and African American students who seek out counseling services may encounter professionals who are not familiar with the role that cultural affiliation and race play in mental health. These professionals may have only been educated on Eurocentric methods and diagnoses.

However, if counselors and therapists are involved in professional organizations like the Association of Black Psychologists, then they may have a better understanding of the types of treatments and resources better suited to aid students of color. Support can include psychotherapy, in-person and virtual appointments, and student peer support groups. Emergency response support and access to other health and wellness programs should also be available.

Students can also turn to their friends and family to discuss their experiences and get support.

A school’s mental health support center should be able to recommend books, films, and podcasts. A sign that a college supports student mental health is its promotion of school-life balance with wellness activities like meditation workshops.

Another resource found on some college campuses include Black Cultural Centers and Multicultural Centers. They may offer counseling for students or be able to make referrals outside of the institution. Supportive colleges also host orientation activities with icebreakers to help students learn to navigate and find their place within the campus culture. Many participate in JED Campus Programs, which aim to decrease substance misuse and suicide rates.

Barriers to Mental Health Support for Black and African American Students

Black and African American patients often face bias and discrimination in the United States healthcare system, which has historically excluded people of color. Due to stigmas and disparities, they tend to use mental health services less than other populations, including access to outpatient services and prescription drugs.

According to APA, African Americans are less likely to receive adequate care and are less frequently included in research studies. This can leave them more likely to use emergency rooms or primary care services rather than mental health specialists. Many African Americans, like many other people of color, come from socioeconomic backgrounds that make it more difficult to access treatment. In 2019, for example, 11.4% of nonelderly people who identified as Black or African American had no health insurance.

The stigma of mental health in the Black community also plays a role.

A National Mental Health Association study found that 63% of African Americans saw a mental health condition, like depression, as a sign of weakness resulting from a lack of inner strength.

Therefore, they may seek a diagnosis from a physician rather than a mental health expert. Additionally, they may turn to alcohol or drugs to help cope with their anxiety. 

If they are involved in church, the advice may be to “give it to God ” rather than to seek professional help. In many instances, ministers are not licensed counselors or psychologists and falsely believe mental health issues can be “prayed away.” In such cases, mental health conditions may worsen from lack of professional care. However, there are progressive churches that may actually have a “Mental Health Ministry” with church members who are licensed practitioners and, through the ministry, provide free services.

Choosing the Right Mental Health Support

For many students, especially those at large universities, the campus resource center or psychological services center can provide a number of supportive resources that may already be included as part of their student fees. Many colleges offer free counseling services, medication management, support groups, and classes like practicing mindfulness or learning key coping skills. Some students may choose to look off campus for this support. 

According to Lynell Williams, a National Certified Counselor, many schools have staff websites that share their background, their approach to therapy, and what mental health concerns they work with best. This will give the student more control of who they see as a provider and make them comfortable before even making an appointment.

Before signing up for mental health services, students have to decide if a particular mental health facility is compatible with their needs. Consider the diversity of the staff and the organization’s stance toward diversity and inclusion — in addition to the location and costs of mental health care. In today’s pandemic era, the remote workforce includes mental health specialists. Students have the option to schedule and conduct therapy appointments virtually.

In therapy, students can learn coping strategies to manage their conditions. By seeking therapists from similar backgrounds or who are aware of the biases that Black and African American people face, students can find appropriate care.

Mental Health Resources for Students of Color

  • Black Mental Health Alliance. Students can connect with therapists, find volunteer and internship opportunities, and locate information about BMHA programs, training, and workshops.
  • The Steve Fund. A leading organization in mental health for young people of color, the Steve Fund website offers various resources that include scholarships, articles on mental health, newsletters, and its SpeakOnIt! podcast.
  • The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds. Located at Massachusetts General Hospital, this organization provides free online educational resources that include original podcasts, videos, and blog posts.
  • Therapy for Black Girls Podcast. This podcast is a weekly conversation on mental health and personal development. It offers an online blog and community and helps visitors find therapists. Therapy for Black Girls aims to provide a sense of belonging and support for Black girls.
  • JED Campus. Working directly with colleges and universities, the JED Foundation puts systems, programs, and policies in place to protect student mental health and build life skills.
  • Ourselves Black. An online and print magazine with a variety of resources, Ourselves Black promotes that mental health challenges must be understood and addressed.
  • Black Girls Smile. This leading organization on Black female mental wellness offers help crisis lines, resources for finding a mental health professional, and lists of various mental health organizations.
  • BEAM. The Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective website provides mental health support through programs, wellness tools, and funding opportunities.
  • The Trevor Project. The Trevor Project publishes mental health guides for young queer people. Visitors can choose to text, call, or chat online with one of the organization’s mental health counselors
  • Free Black Thought. This online collaboration of scholars, technologists, and parents are “determined to amplify vital Black voices that are rarely heard on mainstream platforms.”
  • National organizations on campus. Another option for Black and African American students is to find out if there are student chapters of nationally based organizations on campus, such as the Association of Black Psychologists or the National Association of Black Social Workers. Because of the national affiliation, students in these organizations would have contact with licensed professionals who work with Black communities and may be willing to offer discounted or volunteer counseling services to students.
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