Dear Commons Community,
Just about every survey conducted since the beginning of March indicates that student distress is only going to get worse this fall. Those mental-health concerns will be exacerbated for Black and Hispanic students, whose populations are disproportionately harmed by Covid-19 and by the police violence gripping the nation’s consciousness. Asian American students, meanwhile, are dealing with racial slurs and jokes stemming from the pandemic’s origins in China.
What’s more, students of color often don’t get the help they need. About 45 percent of white students with mental-health challenges seek treatment, according to a 2018 study, but only a third of Latinx students do so. For Black and Asian students, the proportion is even lower — about 25 and 22 percent, respectively (see table above).
And this fall, they will return to colleges that look and feel very different. The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article this morning describing the plans of some colleges in dealing with supporting students of color. Here is an excerpt.
“In the throes of dual national crises, students of color will need quick access to mental-health-care options that reflect their experiences, recreate their support systems remotely, and acknowledge the physical and emotional tolls the past few months have taken.
As Alexa Sass, a junior at the University of California at Los Angeles, was finishing up the spring term, George Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis, and protests against racial injustice exploded nationwide. Processing the news was overwhelming and exhausting for Sass, who identifies as Black and Filipino.
She tried to get through her final exams as best she could. She turned to books on spirituality. She leaned on her communities within UCLA and back home in the Bay Area — virtually, of course. She has tried out some of the university’s online mental-health resources, but they’re not what she really needs.
Without much in-person interaction, she’s struggling emotionally. “The way that I process my mental health is through support systems,” said Sass, a leader in the campus chapter of Active Minds, a national mental-health advocacy group.
The pandemic and the racial-injustice crisis have caused fear, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness in Black students, said Kayla Johnson, a staff psychologist at Prairie View A&M University, a historically Black institution in Texas. But those students don’t often use mental-health services, because of stigma.
For some Black people, Johnson said, going to a therapist means that something must be wrong with you, or that you don’t have enough faith in God. There’s also pressure to keep problems to yourself, she said: “There’s kind of a level of secrecy about things that happen.”
Not only are there cultural barriers that discourage many students of color from talking openly about mental health, but they also encounter a staff of campus therapists many of whom don’t look like them, said Annelle Primm, a senior medical adviser at the Steve Fund, a mental-health-support organization for young people of color. Some students, she said, make the calculation that “it’s best not to seek help if they can’t seek help from someone with whom they feel comfortable sharing such personal feelings.”
At predominantly white institutions, counseling-staff members often don’t know how to talk with Black students, Johnson added. Sometimes, she said, students end up taking time out of their therapy sessions to explain social, economic, and cultural problems affecting Black families to their white therapists.
“Of course, when that happens, you don’t want to come back,” she said.
This fall, making sure students of color can connect with culturally competent mental-health providers will be key, mental-health experts say.
Before Stacia Alexander arrived at Paul Quinn College, in 2018, the historically black institution in Texas had a mental-health provider on campus for only a few hours each week, from the nearby University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Once Alexander took over as the college’s first mental-health-clinic coordinator, she tried a direct form of outreach: She handed out her cellphone number to students at orientation and told them to text her when they were having a bad day. One of the biggest barriers to accessing care, she said, is that students don’t know where to go.
It worked. And many students told her how excited they were to have a Black therapist to talk with.
But students were texting her all night, she said. So, earlier this year, Paul Quinn joined with TimelyMD, a teletherapy company, to ease the burden. Now students can reach a therapist 24/7 through the TimelyMD app, which offers access to providers from a wide range of cultural backgrounds.
Accessibility, experts say, should be another top priority for colleges trying to better reach students of color with mental-health resources.
Dozens of colleges, including George Washington University, Texas A&M University, and Mississippi State University, are offering quick drop-in consultations with therapists meant for students of color. The program, known as “Let’s Talk,” typically is set up at different locations across campus during a given week, often in student unions or cultural centers. For now, the drop-in sessions are happening virtually.
Brown University’s counseling center uses a flexible-care model, in which most students are served through 25-30-minute sessions that they can schedule just once, or as often as they want. Continuing 50-minute counseling appointments reflect a Western-centric care approach that doesn’t appeal to many students of color, said Will Meek, director of counseling and psychological services.
Since March, he said, no Brown student has waited more than a day to see one of the university’s campus therapists, a staff that Meek describes as culturally diverse. The university uses a third party to further expand access…
…Some colleges are turning to online platforms to try to reach students before they spiral into anxiety or depression. More than 120 institutions are offering You at College, which compiles mental-health and well-being resources tailored to campuses.
Nathaan Demers, a former campus psychologist who’s now vice president and director of clinical programs at Grit Digital Health, which worked with Colorado State University to develop You at College three years ago, said students’ use of the platform increased by 153 percent in the first five weeks of the pandemic compared with the previous three months.
The platform recently added resources that address the racial-injustice crisis, on how to make one’s voice heard effectively and how to maintain self-care as an activist. California State University at Fullerton conducted a study this spring and found that students of color used the You at College platform at a higher rate than white students did, Demers said.
Students can use You at College on their phones, and they can do so privately, which is especially important for students who are staying with their families and wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking with a therapist in that environment, he said.”
As colleges prepare for how they will re-open in the fall and strengthen support services for students, this article has a number of timely suggestions.