Black Minds: The Stigma Around Black Students Seeking Counseling

I slammed my poor microeconomics exam grade on my desk, as I looked out the window of my dorm room. I proceeded to pull down the blinds and switch off the lights, cementing the room in darkness. The word failure tattooed itself in the forefront of my mind, as I grabbed the tylenol out of my cabinet. I was not tired or suffering from a headache; I was depressed. Sleeping was the only escape. If you are sleeping, you don’t feel pain or sadness. It’s like you’re not there. It was the closest thing to death for me.

I threw myself into my bed, pulled out my cell phone and proceeded to surf through Facebook photos of those doing better than I. A post of my ex girlfriend out with her friends, followed by a photo of a friend at Harvard in love with his college experience, flooded my timeline. I threw the phone on to my wooden desk, only to have it vibrate in mid air. My Mom was calling and a sea of tears began to swallow my eyes whole. I couldn’t answer. Not now. Not like this. No one could see me like this. I was supposed to be better than this. I was supposed to be thriving academically and socially, not dying. My late grandmother would’ve been saddened. My late father would’ve been disappointed. My friends from high school wouldn’t have recognized me. I don’t know what my college friends would’ve thought because I had at most, two close friends in college. My Mother…I don’t know what she would’ve said. No one could know that in reality, this is what my life was like when I wasn’t putting on a smile in front of them, pretending to be ok.

That was me, February of 2015. I am Ryan Shepard. I am a Sophomore Journalism major and I do not have it all together, but that’s ok. What’s even better is that I know I don’t have it all together and I am working towards getting the help I need to become the best possible person I can be. Starting in the fall, I will be going to the counseling office at least once every two weeks and I encourage every incoming college freshman to at least visit the counseling office during the first semester.

Often times, incoming freshman are told college will be the best four years of their lives. For many students, college is an incredible experience, but for some, that’s not the case. Some of us will struggle academically. Some of us will struggle socially. If you’re like me, you’ll struggle socially and academically. The worst part is that most of us won’t get the help we need.

The American Psychological Association found that 95% of college counseling center directors surveyed said the number of students with significant psychological problems is a growing concern. To make matters worse, there is often a stigma around Black students who decide to access the counseling services available to them. As a black student, especially as a black male, often times the statement, “I’m going to my counseling appointment,” is met with “Something wrong with you?” or “Yo, that’s weird. Are you crazy or something?” In some instances, I’ve even been told that struggling with mental health is a “white thing”. While it’s outrageous to think that mental health education is a “white thing”, the research doesn’t seem to help my efforts.

The National Association of Mental Illness 2012 study of college students featured a participant pool that was 82% white and 82% female, so it’s as if organizations aren’t even interested in learning about the mental health struggles of black males. As a result, many black students don’t let others know about the support services offered at their school, talk about their experiences with counseling or they just don’t go at all. The stigma around seeking support for Collegiate Black mental health is counterproductive and dangerous.

I hope that as colleges and universities make stronger efforts to educate students on mental health, it becomes a universal issue that is not exclusive white people or females. Black men? We struggle. Just like everyone else. TC mark

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