Navigating student mental health challenges and opportunities at HBCUs

MHA Admin

Fri, 02/16/2024 – 15:50

by Chayil Bullock-Mariscal

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) stand as beacons of empowerment and academic excellence within the African American community. Beyond academics, these institutions cultivate a feeling of inclusion, cultural pride, and support from a community of individuals that not only resemble you, but sincerely want to see each student succeed. Like any institution, HBCUs face unique challenges when it comes to supporting student mental health, but they are providing innovative approaches to address these issues.

The historical stigma surrounding mental health within the African American community is one of the leading challenges. Seeking help for mental health is frequently viewed as a sign of weakness, preventing students from seeking the support they need and leading to unrecognized and untreated mental health diagnoses, potentially impacting an individual’s day-to-day routine, academic and work performances, and overall well-being. Compared to larger, predominantly white institutions, HBCUs often have limited resources or funding to provide comprehensive mental health services. Budget constraints may limit the number of on-campus counseling services, mental health professionals, or programs. This lack of resources can make it hard for students who deal with other financial and personal responsibilities to access timely, affordable, and culturally effective care. In addition, the intersectionality of race, gender, and socioeconomic status adds to the mental health experiences of students at HBCUs, causing higher rates of anxiety, depression, and other challenges.

Don’t be fooled, though. Despite these challenges, HBCUs offer opportunities for innovative approaches to supporting student mental health. Leveraging the strong sense of community and cultural pride that is fostered in these institutions can provide peer-to-peer support. By addressing unique challenges faced by students, creating safe spaces for open dialogue about mental health, promoting awareness, and fostering acceptance, HBCUs can continue their legacy of breaking down barriers and nurturing the growth of young people of color.

HBCUs encourage student-led initiatives and collaborations with faculty and administration, further strengthening mental health support within these environments. These student-led initiatives, such as mental health awareness campaigns, support groups, and wellness workshops, empower individuals to become agents of change within their communities and cultivate self-advocacy for well-being.

But HBCUs can go even further by prioritizing the recruitment of diverse mental health professionals who understand the unique cultural experiences of African American students. Through the lens of a student, seeing individuals who resemble them – their backgrounds and identities – and are passionate about not only their well-being but their aspirations creates trust, breaks stigma, and increases the desire to access mental health services.By acknowledging and addressing cultural stigmas, expanding access to resources, and fostering a culture of support and empowerment, HBCUs will continue to uphold their legacy as beacons of hope and opportunity for generations to come. HBCUs serve as catalysts for positive change within the African American community while embracing their heritage and creating paths toward healing, resilience, and liberation in the pursuit of mental wellness. As these institutions continue to evolve and adapt to the ever-changing needs of their student populations, prioritizing mental health must remain a focus.

Chayil Bullock-Mariscal (she/her) is a member of the 2023-2024 Mental Health America Young Leaders Council.

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Author: MHA Admin