Mental Health Needs Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Although increased demands for mental health care among college students is not a new priority, the impact of COVID-19 and the national reckoning with racism has further increased the neessity to address these needs. This is especially the case for students of color, as they face constant social and financial pressures and exposures to trauma that negatively impact their psychological well-being and overall health. Depression, anxiety and stress are among the major concerns reported by black college students at HBCUs. One HBCU in the northwest U.S. which had students self-report psychological stress found that 49% of students met the clinical cut off for depression, 39% for anxiety, and 52% for both. These findings could be tied to academic, socioeconomic, and pandemic-related concerns.

Black students experience exposure to traumatic events compared to other racial or ethnic groups. Intergenerational trauma resulting from racism can be significant mental health implications. This is further exacerbated for students at the intersection of multiple underrepresented groups. For example, Black students who identify as LGBTQ report experience stressors such as identity development, stigma, discrimination and adverse experience, as well as the pressure of success in education while facing oppression and violence through systems and institutions.

Even on HBCU campuses, many Black students continue to experience oppression, which presents consequences to their academic and social engagement, racial empowerment, and identify development. Identity struggle and exposure to adverse experiences are common among black students at HBCUs. In addition, over a third of HBCU students have experienced a situation in which their lives or well being were being jeopardized. As a result, it’s crucial that mental health services and support for HBCU students include acknowledgement and targeted interventions for trauma and healing.

Along with mental health concerns associated with identity and trauma, financial stressors have been shown to impede access to and completion of higher education. Data shows that due to a lack of generational wealth Black students tend to depend on debt to finance their education. This is especially true for Black women (not all the time). Rising prices of college tuition contribute to a cycle of systemic oppression in black communities, leaving many students in debt and the burden of financial stress.

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