Going into college as a first-generation student and coming from a community lacking access to mental health services is already tough. What’s even tougher is not being aware of mental health services on your campus — or finding out about them, but learning there are only a limited number of counseling sessions you can access before you’re referred to an off-campus provider. You just come down to the conclusion that it isn’t even worth utilizing the campus services:what use is a few sessions going to do for you?
The mental health crisis among young people is alarming: According to Active Minds, 39% of college students experience a significant mental health issue and 67% of young people with anxiety or depression, don’t seek treatment. These numbers represent all college-aged students and do not focus on Black, Indigeous, and people of color (BIPOC) who often come from communities that stigmatize mental health, leaving them with feelings of “being dramatic” or “crazy.” In addition, the lack of mental health accessibility and poor circulation of campus resources leaves many BIPOC college students vulnerable: many struggle to manage their mental health on top of stressors such as coursework, interpersonal relationships, and financial hardships.
All CUNY and SUNY campuses should strive to improve their approaches to address students’ mental health needs. For example, campuses should advertise their counseling centers and services more; allow unlimited counseling sessions; diversify mental health counselors to include BIPOC practitioners; and work to break the stigma of seeking mental health support. Campus leaders and college administrators should advocate for these changes by re-approaching their marketing of the counseling center, hiring BIPOC practitioners, and expanding sessions to being unlimited. State legislatures should pass legislation that supports and upholds these changes to ensure that the mental health of BIPOC students remains protected.
As a start, I challenge people to contact their local representatives and express the need to address and protect the mental health of BIPOC college students.Additionally, raise awareness of this issue with your campuses’ student governments to gain their support and to inspire discussion on this matter with college administrators.
Arene Holston is a student at SUNY-Oneonta, and a Spring 2021 Young Advocate with YI-New York.