Mental health is a primary focus of personal well-being. The pandemic brought to light and exacerbated the need for many to not only address their mental health concerns but to seek out treatment actively and openly. While this is true for the general population, it holds especially true for college students, including HBCU students. Student Housing of America (SHA) exists to not only provide safe, affordable, residential housing for students attending HBCUs, but also resources for those students to sustain their enrollment, foster academic excellence, and support both their physical and mental well-being.
TimelyMD conducted a recent survey asking college students to identify their top stressors. Half of the students responded that their mental health was their primary concern and 71% stated that they have severe stress, anxiety, and depression. However, according to a 2020 Student Pulse survey of HBCU students, 80% reported turning to their colleges and universities for resources to help them with mental health concerns. Systemically speaking, many of those students turn to their academic institutions because of the plethora of barriers outside their campus walls: lack of trust in medical providers, poor communication with previous mental health professionals, racial tension, and other stressors.
While HBCU students often face many social barriers that push them to seek mental health support at their schools, those same schools have financial barriers that, thus far, prevented them from providing more accessible mental health care. While these barriers are tough to overcome, mental health partnerships provide students at HBCUs with more access and higher quality overall care. According to ActiveMinds, creating partnerships with local community providers, faith-based organizations, and neighboring higher education institutions are all effective ways HBCUs can begin the work of creating these partnerships for mental health. SHA recognizes that HBCUs have long been integral to not just their students, but their local communities. Working hand-in-hand with HBCUs, corporate partners, and other organizations, SHA works to address students’ needs and provide for their physical and mental well-being.
The ability to collaborate for the sake of mental health partnerships extends to nonprofits and other non-governmental organizations. For example, the United Negro College Fund, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and the Steve Fund recently announced a joint effort in the creation of the “Unapologetically Free” program. The goal of this partnership is to directly address the mental health crises on HBCU campuses nationwide. “Unapologetically Free” held its first conference in mid-April 2023, with topics for HBCU students including, “Freedom to Grieve,” “Free to Ask for Help,” and “Free to Care for Myself and the Community.”
In addition to the focus many HBCUs have on attaining support for their students on campus, other partnerships look to expand the number and the role of Black mental health providers. One in particular is the HBCU Career, Awareness, Recruitment, and Engagement Services (HBCU CARES) program. This is a partnership between Clark Atlanta University and SAMHSA which brings awareness to marginalized communities who are at greater risk of being impacted by substance abuse disorders and serious mental illnesses. The program offers access to behavioral health fields for students from diverse backgrounds. Having representation within the mental health and behavioral health communities is just as important for long-term access to mental health care as are programs on campus for the immediate needs of HBCU students.
Another program with access for HBCU students includes SAMHSA’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities Center of Excellence in Behavioral Health (HBCU-CFE). Similar to HBCU CARES, it does not focus exclusively on providing care on-campus to students, but on growing minority representation within the behavioral health field. The program ensures that HBCU students are given opportunities to succeed in the field, with strong working knowledge to tend to their communities in the most knowledgeable and practical ways possible. HBCU-CFE encourages students to address opioid use disorders, serious mental illnesses, and suicide prevention.
Student Housing of America (SHA) also works with local partners to ensure that not only are students’ housing issues addressed as they pursue higher education, but their mental health as well. Hosting seminars and producing informational media, SHA provides resources for students who need that information the most. Using their HBCU Healthy Housing (H3) initiative, SHA provides safe, renovated, state-of-the-art properties near campus to students. As part of the initiative, SHA provides support programs so students can thrive in a stable living environment while going to school. Need-based grants, zero-interest loans, and food security all help SHA provide students with the best support possible. In the interest of partnerships, SHA works with their partner universities so students on those campuses also have access to their support programs and initiatives, including H3.
HBCUs’ access to partnerships on local, state, and national levels presents opportunities to all of their students. It allows HBCU students to understand that mental health is a priority, that it should not be stigmatized, and that their schools understand the deep significance of strong mental health support systems. With that understanding and commitment to their students’ mental wellbeing, the benefits of HBCUs will continue to grow and to support the Black community in a way that only they can.
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