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Mental Health and Self-Care at HBCUs: Why it Matters

July 2023

Heart Health Month

Self-care is a critical consideration – especially during the college years. After all, while college times are some of the most exciting in a young person’s life, adjusting to these new freedoms can create new stressors. Addressing these stressors effectively is important, but services such as therapy are often viewed as not being able to manage something by oneself and has often been shunned by the Black community.

Additionally, the mental health community is still disproportionately white with nearly 81% of mental health practitioners being white. Focusing on self-care and mental health is not something to be neglected as it is just as important as your bodily health. Why is there such a disparity in mental health in the Black community and what can HBCU students do to focus on self-care?

What is Self-Care?

When most people think of self-care, things like massages and long bubble baths may immediately come to mind. But self-care is not something that requires finding time for or activities that are self indulging. Self-care are interventions individuals can do at any time to self regulate and to manage stressors so they can live a healthy physical and emotional life.

Why Is There a Mental Health Disparity In The Black Community?

The distrust of health professionals from the Black community has stemmed historically. There have been countless incidents of mistreatment by health professionals, with one of the most notable in recent history being the Tuskegee study. With this history, it’s understandable there’s an inherent distrust with the system, especially as there is still a significant lack of Black representation in this system.

Mental health concerns affect all communities. However studies have highlighted attitudes and beliefs that many Black women believe they are not susceptible to depression. They believe individuals who seek mental health support or who struggle with depression have a “weak mind, poor health, a troubled spirit, and lack of self-love.” However, we also know these women identified the stigma they felt from family and friends were a significant barrier to seeking mental health services.

White women are nearly 60% more likely to seek out mental health services compared to Black women. Additionally, Black adults are approximately 67% more likely to feel like “everything is an effort” compared to white adults. Students from minority groups are likely to have undetected mental health issues and are therefore an increasingly at-risk group. The status quo is no longer sufficient. The demand for proper care and mental health resources is increasing. HBCUs have a responsibility to be a safe space for the young, Black community. Spelman supports our community in this endeavor:

Large Blue Quote LeftThe Spelman Counseling Center is committed to creating a supportive and inclusive environment where all students can thrive. By promoting mental health and wellness, expanding our services and accessibility, working to name mental health challenges to reduce the stigma, and by providing on campus and off campus resources that speak to students' unique needs. Our staff is working to ensure that students and faculty understand the resources available so they can succeed,” said Ronjonette O'Bannon, Ph.D., LCSW, director, Counseling Center.

Self-Care Tips for Students: Fill Then Pour

Pamela Walton, LPC, the associate director of the Spelman Counseling Center spoke recently about the importance of self-care:

Large Blue Quote LeftIt is time to reimagine the narrative of the Strong Black Woman. There is strength in self-care, self-compassion, and self-love. It is not selfish to begin the journey to mental and emotional health with the nurturing of self. We cannot serve others effectively from a depleted vessel. Fill then pour.”

There are a number of ways you can work to reduce stress and improve mental health, both during your time at an HBCU and after:

  • Find a support system: lean on friends, family or other trusted people to support you and that you know care about you.
  • Practice and improve healthy coping skillsmake lists, give yourself time to relax, ask for support are just a few coping skills you can leverage.
  • Relaxation as a practice: consider meditation or journaling (as difficult as this can be during busy college schedules).
  • Embrace spirituality: this may look different for everyone. some may be more traditionally religious, others may focus on nature but looking beyond yourself for a greater meaning and purpose can improve mental health 
  • Find connections: consider joining a support group, faith community, or school group to deepen human connections that enrich us mentally.
  • Sleep: Give your body time to recharge. While it may be tempting to skimp on sleep, don’t. Getting good rest is critical to maintaining a positive mental health outlook.

Spelman Mental Health Research

Spelman and its alumnae are at the forefront of research in the mental health field. Here are just some of the Spelman alumnae making an impact:

Spelman Mental Health Resources

During your time at Spelman, you can utilize a number of resources to improve your mental health and seek self-care.

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