New Report Looks at How HBCUs Can Support Student Mental Health

March 6, 2023

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Title: Lessons from Black Colleges on Mental Health and Wellbeing: Practical Approaches for Historically Black Colleges and Universities to Support Student Belonging and Mental Health

Source: UNCF’s Institute for Capacity Building (ICP) and Active Minds

While mental health concerns are rising across the U.S. college student population, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the sociopolitical climate, Black students experience higher rates of psychological distress, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts than other student populations. Black students also report being reluctant to seek mental health care due to a lack of trust toward the health care system, past negative interactions with mental health professionals, and feelings of racial tension and minority stress.

Despite their longstanding success in supporting Black students, who comprise over 75 percent of their student population, HBCUs report struggling to meet these students’ mental health needs, citing limited funding, inaccessible services related to stigma and historical factors surrounding mental health, and an increase in the severity of mental health concerns on campus. In response, Active Minds and UNCF collaborated in spring 2022 to learn more about the state of mental health resources and practices at HBCUs.

Through 15 interviews with mental health and other higher education professionals across 10 HBCUs, Active Minds and UNCF outlined eight strategies to address students’ mental health needs.  

  1. Create systems level campus strategies – HBCUs are making strides by implementing comprehensive early alert and referral systems, clear crisis protocols, wraparound services, and other institutional initiatives (e.g., dedicated self-care spaces and wellness days) to address student mental health and wellness. These strategies allow institutional actors at every level to participate in supporting students’ mental health and address contributing factors to mental health concerns, such as basic needs insecurity and familial responsibilities.
  2. Build and leverage partnerships – HBCUs are building upon relationships with their local communities, namely faith-based organizations, community agencies and non-profits, and neighboring institutions, to share resources and provide students access to services that the institution may be unable to provide.
  3. Increase access to mental health supports – HBCUs are developing more accessible mental health services by providing both in-person and telehealth services, hiring more mental health professionals and counselors of color, implementing early and often mental health screening of students, and establishing collaborations with campus and community partners to serve more students.
  4. Effectively promote campus mental health resources – HBCUs are encouraging faculty, students, and staff to participate in both reducing the stigma surrounding mental health and increasing awareness of campus mental health services. For example, Coppin State University and other HBCUs are creating institutional websites and online resources dedicated to mental health awareness and resources. Institutions are also providing space for faculty, students, and staff to share their own mental health journeys.
  5. Center student voices – Centering student voicesinvolves supporting the development of student organizations and programming focused on mental health and empowering student leaders to model positive mental health behaviors and practices for fellow students. Additionally, HBCUs are encouraged to develop and implement formative assessment or feedback processes for students to share their thoughts and needs surrounding campus mental health.
  6. Create a culture of caring between students and faculty/staff – HBCUs are encouraging and facilitating connection between students and faculty/staff, which increases students’ sense of belonging, connection to the institution, and establishes rapport and trust. Early relationships with faculty/staff are found to mitigate mental health concerns and make students more likely to reach out for support if needed.
  7. Educate campus community members – To increase mental health awareness and reduce stigma, HBCUs are implementing educational initiatives to reach all members of the campus community. Popular educational initiatives among HBCUs include mental health awareness week campaigns; mandated training for students, faculty, and staff; and widespread mental health promotional materials.
  8. Assess campus needs – To better understand the unique mental health needs of their diverse student populations (i.e., first-generation, low-income, and other historically marginalized student populations), HBCUs are encouraged to, and often do, engage in assessment through surveys, interviews, focus groups, town hall meetings, and other means. This necessary assessment can provide a clearer understanding of students’ mental health needs, highlight areas in need of growth or development to better fulfill students’ needs, and is both informed by and connects to the above strategies.

To read the full report, click here.

—Alyssa Stefanese Yates

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