There’s a growing number of Black college students experiencing depression, but campuses can help those in crisis.
Starting college can be an exciting experience in a young person’s life, but it can also be stressful.
You’re on your own, and you’re thrust into a new environment where you may not know anyone or be around anything familiar. You’re now responsible for cleaning your own room, preparing or getting your own food, and getting to all your classes on time.
These and other issues could lead to negative emotions or mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety.
For Black or African American students, the added stress of racism, financial worries, and the pressure to overachieve put them at a higher chance of developing a mental health condition.
The pandemic and the recent string of racial injustices only increases this likelihood even more. For many Black students, these issues go undiagnosed, and therefore, untreated.
Managing the symptoms of a mental health condition can affect a student’s academic performance and social experience.
But there is hope.
College campuses could offer services to help students manage their symptoms and thrive in college and beyond.
A look at the hard numbers
Although mental health conditions can affect any college student, Black students often experience more serious symptoms because of mental health stigma and other barriers.
- Black Americans are 20% more likely to have serious mental health conditions.
- About 50% of Black students report they have never received any mental health education prior to college.
- Students of color report higher rates of emotional distress during their first year of college.
- Nearly 34% of Black students report feeling so depressed in the past year it was difficult to function.
- Compared to 61% of white students, 75% of Black college students report they tend to keep their feelings about how hard college is to themselves.
- Overall, 40% of Black college students experience mental health issues.
- Students of color are half as likely to seek treatment for mental health issues as other students.
- Black students are more likely to seek help from religious figures during their first year of college.
- In total, 21% of Black students with mental health issues receive a diagnosis compared to 48% of white students.
- Black students are less likely to have health insurance.
- Approximately 9.2% of Black students reported having serious thoughts of suicide and 1.7% report attempting suicide.
Why Black students experience depression
Many factors contribute to Black students experiencing depression.
One major factor is the wealth gap. Black students are less likely than white students to have college money set aside, leading to suffocating student loan debt. Black students typically leave school with the highest amount of debt.
To avoid taking out loans, many Black students get jobs or enter work-study programs, limiting their time for studying and socializing.
It would take the average Black family 228 years to obtain the same wealth as a white family. Historic racism and economic recessions have prevented Black families from obtaining and maintaining wealth.
Black students will be starting college this fall with the awareness of their family’s financial issues, which may add to the anxiety and depression they feel.
Societal pressure to achieve
While it is true that most college students experience pressures from their families and society, 18% of Black students are first-generation college students. This means that families’ success is dependent on their social mobility and access.
Education gives you access, and with that access, you can then advocate and meet the needs of loved ones facing financial difficulties.
Even for students who may not be first-generation college students, others may judge them this way due to stereotypes and racism.
Pew Research finds that the more education a person of color has, the more likely they will experience racial slurs and microaggressions — subtle or indirect forms of discrimination that are often unintentional but uphold harmful stereotypes about marginalized groups.
While colleges tend to draw students from all over the country (and world), bringing people together won’t automatically make everyone more open to understanding the plights of others.
Black students are then placed into positions where they are taking classes, or even rooming, with students who have problematic views or prejudices. This is especially troublesome in elite schools, where students of color might be assumed to have been accepted because of affirmative action.
Therapy stigmas in the Black community
A recent national survey shows Black students are more likely to keep their feelings about difficulties in college to themselves.
The stigma surrounding mental health treatment, the reluctance to seek help, and a mistrust of mental health professionals among students are only a few of the reasons Black students keep silent about their mental health needs.
Strong Black woman complex
This strong Black woman narrative has been studied more in recent years due to the Black Lives Matter movement.
It’s not uncommon for Black women to feel the need to shoulder through difficult times and fight alone through feelings of depression and anxiety.
No matter the cost — whether physically or mentally — Black women are expected to keep moving forward. They often:
- take on extra tasks at work, despite already being overloaded
- don’t accept or ask for much needed help
- keep silent about not feeling well or feeling slighted out of fear of being perceived as weak or angry
The trope arose in response to negative stereotypes about Black people, especially women, calling them welfare queens and lazy. These stereotypes are still prevalent.
If you’re a new student this fall or returning to school, you don’t have to go through your college journey alone. There are ways you can connect with others and find the support and resources you need. Consider visiting your college’s student services department to find out about programs and resources.
You can also find help and support by visiting these sources:
Advocacy Groups and Student Organizations:
NAACP’s Education Innovation
National Pan-Hellenic Council
National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education
Mental Health Resources:
Therapy for Black Girls
The Steve Fund
Rest for Resistance
National Scholarships and Financial Aid:
United Negro College Fund
Jackie Robinson Foundation
Suicide is a leading cause of death among college and university students. But there are ways colleges and universities can take action, such as:
• promote social connection
• identify and help students in crisis
• be prepared to respond
If you or someone you know is in crisis right now, help is available. You can: Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255, or text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
To learn more about how colleges, communities and places of worship can help visit https://psychcentral.com/depression/what-to-know-about-depression-in-black-college-students#how-colleges-can-help.