Numerous studies and surveys, including a survey from TimelyMD, indicate that the mental health of students has significantly worsened in the last few months. As a recent story by Sarah Brown in the Chronicle of Higher Education underscores, these mental health concerns are likely to be higher for students of color, whose populations are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and the country’s racial tensions and distress. Unfortunately, students of color don’t often get the mental health help they need. According to a 2018 study, only a third of Latinx students seek care for mental health. The rate is even lower for Black and Asian students — about 25% and 22%, respectively. It’s essential that colleges and universities prepare to support the mental health of students of color, whether students return to campus or continue remote learning.
Mental health in communities of color
Americans are struggling with historic levels of mental health problems, but according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, rates of anxiety and depression among Black Americans have risen higher recently than any other racial or ethnic group, with 41% screening positive for at least one of these conditions. When comparing data from May 21 – 26 and May 28 – June 2, Black Americans who show clinically significant signs of anxiety or depressive disorders jumped from 36% to 41%, which represents approximately 1.4 million more people. Among Asian Americans, those conditions rose from 28% to 34% — a change that represents an increase of about 800,000 people.
As college and university leaders manage reopening in the middle of a global pandemic, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 and growing racial tensions across the country have administrators asking, “How can higher education best support the mental health of students of color?”
1. Reduce the stigma of seeking help.
The stigma of seeking out help is a major deterrent that keeps many people from receiving mental health care when they need it. This fact is also true in communities of color, with one study showing that 63% of African Americans believe that a mental health condition is a personal sign of weakness. As a result, only one in three Black adults who need mental health care receive it. According to the American Psychiatric Association, African Americans are more likely to use emergency rooms or primary care as opposed to mental health specialists.
It’s also more likely that Black students may view seeking help from a mental health provider as crisis or weakness in their personal faith. Kayla Johnson, a staff psychologist at Prairie View A&M University, told the Chronicle that “for some Black people, 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.” Higher education leaders must create a culture and environment that educates and encourages students on the value of supporting their own mental health.
Not only are there cultural roadblocks that may discourage students of color from talking openly about mental health, but encountering a staff of campus mental health providers that don’t look like the students is also a hindrance, according to Annelle Primm, a senior medical adviser at the Steve Fund — a mental-health-support organization for young people of color. In the Chronicle, she said that some students may decide 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.”
When it comes to seeking care, TimelyMD knows that representation matters and offers a diverse range of licensed medical doctors and mental health providers in each of the 50 states.
2. Remove barriers to access.
Oftentimes, college students are forced to wait days (or even weeks) for mental health care, due to limited mental health providers or clinic hours. These types of barriers reduce the number of students that receive care. A great example of a school removing barriers to mental health care is Paul Quinn College — a historically black institution in Dallas. Before Dr. Stacia’ Alexander arrived in 2018 at Paul Quinn, the institution had a mental health provider on campus for only a few hours each week. As told to Sarah Brown in the Chronicle, once Dr. Alexander took over as the college’s first mental health clinic coordinator, she tried a direct form of outreach by giving her cell phone number to students at orientation. She told them to text her when they were having a bad day.
This personal outreach worked, with many students telling her how excited they were to have a Black therapist to talk with. But the increased demand resulted in students texting her at all hours of the night. To ease the burden and improve access to care, Paul Quinn partnered with TimelyMD — the market leader in telehealth for higher education. With TimelyMD, students can reach a counselor or behavioral health specialist through QuinnCare via the TimelyMD app, which provides 24/7/365 access to a diverse group of mental health providers.
Dr. Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College, recently shared on Twitter that the institution’s partnership with TimelyMD is “one of the most innovative things that [Paul Quinn has] done.”
— Michael Sorrell (@michaelsorrell) March 13, 2020
3. Increase student awareness of mental health resources.
One of the biggest issues with accessing care, according to Dr. Alexander, is that students don’t know how to access care. Echoing this sentiment, an Active Minds survey found that 55% of students do not know where to go for help for their mental health. With this in mind, college and university leaders need to examine how they communicate with students about mental health resources.
Do faculty and staff know how to identify students that may need mental health support? This knowledge is critical, especially for colleges and universities that continue with remote learning options in the fall. How is your institution proactively communicating with students about how to take care of their mental health? Your plan for communicating your resources to students is just as important as the resources themselves. As students of color continue their studies in the fall, be sure that your institution is clearly communicating where and how students can access mental health care.
Telehealth can play a vital role in how your campus supports the mental health of students of color. Offering telehealth services as an extension of on-campus resources can help reduce the stigma of seeking help. “A student who may access care via telehealth may not otherwise have sought care,” said Dr. Alan Dennington, TimelyMD chief medical officer. “Telehealth meets students where they are to provide care when and where students need it.”
Beyond providing immediate, accessible medical and mental healthcare of the highest quality, TimelyMD is committed to providing diversity in mental health and medical providers that students are able to connect with for care. Additionally, TimelyMD’s telehealth services remove the barrier of wait times and access to care that is restricted to regular business hours. “With 24/7 access to mental health resources, students can still access a supportive, knowledgeable provider even when the counseling center is closed,” said Dr. Jan Hall, TimelyMD executive director of mental health.
Contact TimelyMD to discover how telehealth can remove barriers to mental health and improve the health and wellness of your campus.