Opinion: Ongoing Problems with Mental Health Services for People of Color

Odalis Garcia, a student living in Mitchell Towers, illustrating going through mental health battles. Certain mental illnesses, including depression, can lead to decreased motivation and hopelessness, leading to a feeling of not wanting to get out of bed (Photo illustration by Alyiah Harris).

Generally, people pay close attention to their physical health and will go to the doctor to get treatments for illnesses in order to feel better. Mental health, however, is much more stigmatized, which can lead individuals to overlook treatments for their mental health more often. 

Disparities between mental and physical health treatment are even more apparent in minority communities. According to Mental Health America, in a 2013 study, Black people reported having different stigmas around mental health and not acknowledging their problems or the fact that they need help because Black people generally do not trust America’s health system.  Over the past year, 16% of Black people reported having a mental illness, and 22.4% of those reported serious mental illness.

Part of this issue is derived from the fact that many Black people feel that the current professionals will not be able to understand their personal struggles given that they come from vastly different backgrounds. Only 2% of American Psychological Association members, for example, are Black. In many minority communities, there is a negative stigma around needing mental help, leading to a perception that needing help makes them “crazy” and discouraging treatment. 

According to The American Psychiatric Association, minorities have fewer resources and are typically lower on the economic and social scales. Minorities are more likely to face dehumanization, which hinders access to care. Minorities tend to show similar trends for mental health problems and disorders compared to whites, but they have far less resources and privileges to address those issues. All of these are leading problems causing disparities within the healthcare system. 

Black people and other minorities also receive less quality care with less diverse care practitioners when they do receive treatment, and many times Black people end treatment early instead of receiving full care due to issues like these in the healthcare system. Disparities like these lessen the likelihood of Black individuals seeking and getting help.

Mental Health Care on College Campuses

Being a college student comes with many challenges, including overloaded schedules that are often hard to balance. Colleges and universities should make it a priority that all students, regardless of their backgrounds feel safe, comfortable and accepted. All universities should strive to do this, but not all of them do.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, universities can be breeding grounds for racial discrimination and racial profiling. Universities can sometimes, whether it’s intentional or unintentional, exclude Black students. Some students already have mental health conditions when coming to campus, and these issues can cause their conditions to worsen.

Having mental health battles can cause someone to not want to get out of bed and live their regular everyday lives. It can result in missing class and poor grades. Uncertainty regarding one’s standing on a college campus can truly shatter someone’s identity and cause them to question their self worth as a person.

“Coming to college has been stressful as it would be for anybody, especially this year, 2020, with all of the racial tension and everything,” said Larry Reed, a sophomore from Detroit. “It is a different level of stress.” 

Not only do students have to worry about college life and everything that it encompasses, they also have to worry about their identities and how their identities affect them. 

This is why it is important for physiological practitioners to not only be knowledgeable about mental health in general but to try to understand how different backgrounds impact people differently. This makes counseling and therapy much more effective. 

“Freshman year, I fell into depression and counseling really helped me a lot, as I started going back to class and everything,” said Trevion Oliver, a junior from Chicago.

Although Albion’s Counselling Services provides extensive services for students on campus, some students, like Oliver, feel that the staff could be more diverse in order to make deeper connections with more students.

“It was hard for them to connect to me and how I feel,” said Oliver. “They don’t have anybody from my background, like who came from where I came from.”

Students’ mental health statuses vary and the support they have around them can make or break them greatly affecting the health of their college career.

“I play volleyball, and they are all white, so sometimes that can be uncomfortable,” said Peyton Smith, a sophomore from Houston, Texas. “Counseling services did what they could do instead of just forgetting about me.”

Overall students of color appreciate the mental health services provided, but the biggest thing that they struggle with having to face is discrimination and the staff not fully understanding them as a minority. Counselling Services staff, however, has tried their best and seem to be more successful than not in being well rounded in fulfilling the students’ needs.


1 Comment

  1. —-Mental health, however, is much more stigmatized…

    Far more accurate is we are instructed to direct that prejudice at mental illnesses, and we broadly comply.

    Why? I am not at all sure. Perhaps to conform, to belong. Perhaps out of sheer habit, rote repetition of rote learning. But more than likely not out of a need to hurt someone.

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