Students Discuss Mental Health Struggles In Communities of Color

This forum was one of many hosted during Mental Health Week at New Paltz which took place from Nov. 15-19. During this event students discussed the specific struggles facing people of color when it comes to coping with mental health struggles. Photo courtesy of freepix.com

SUNY New Paltz hosted Mental Health Week led by head of the Psychological Counseling Center (PCC) Gweneth Lloyd from Nov. 15-19. That Thursday, the PCC organized an event entitled “Mental Health Struggles facing People of Color” for students interested. 

After the last stragglers got in, Lloyd began it by saying, “I don’t want to lecture you.” 

She didn’t.

A circle of people from different backgrounds, experiences and disciplines united by the experience of not knowing the privilege of being white in America held a group discussion that she facilitated. 

There was a theme of their problems feeling unique and wholesale. Everyone who goes to college feels stressed at some point. It’s the reality of any configuration of credit hours, holding a job and maintaining close relationships. It’s not spoken about in length in some Black communities and what it can lead to in terms of coping. The concept isn’t always there. 

One participant spoke about how normalized negative habits can be. 

“Most people when they talk about problems they think I’m just gonna smoke the pain away or eat or something and those are physical things and most people realize that kind of loosening up kills,” she said. “Alcohol is not fixing the problem but some people consider it a temporary fix because it gets your mind off things. People don’t realize when they are doing drugs and alcohol to distract themselves, it makes it worse. And again, the problem isn’t fixed.”

One young man told an anecdote about how a white friend of his decided to go back home for their mental health due to stress. He couldn’t fathom it. 

“It’s a privilege to be able to say, ‘I’m gonna take this week off school, let’s take these days to go see my therapist,’” he said. “Or to go, ‘Hey, you know what, I’m gonna go home. My parents are gonna come pick me up.’ It’s something so small to them.”

Aside from barriers to access, the stigma of vulnerability and showing weakness within the Black community was discussed. 

One student said that the advice he gives to people is that they “don’t let them see you cry.” 

It’s a familiar idea for Black men backed up in the media regularly and many in the room, while not agreeing with the sentiment, understood it. The overwhelming sense of things being worse pervades minority culture.

To an extent that is true. The average African American’s lifestyle and opportunities are leaps and bounds beyond what a villager in Nigeria may be experiencing. In that sense the call for perspective isn’t baseless. That, however, does not make it useful.

A student who remarked that they were in a car accident didn’t say they felt better about it because they knew they could’ve died. It was just an excuse for them not to spiral into more negative thoughts as they were stranded on the side of the highway. 

Students at the event clearly felt over or underwhelmed by their college experience. The digitization of schools had only just ended for everyone regardless of race or ethnic background. Those who said they were doing relatively well framed it by saying that they had to stop themselves from competing against idyllic versions of others or themselves. 

It isn’t a race and many simply just do their best. A student drew the connection to Jeff Bezos. The situation of forking 60+ hours of your life a week seems improbable and impossible. He said no one knows what he went through.Maybe no one wants to. Maybe that should feel okay. 

The campus hosted events during mental health week that serviced self-care needs, LGBTQIA+ needs and base needs of being a professional student. In that room with two dozen blue chairs and the same amount of people used to not having a voice, the tension of saying the wrong thing hung in the air.

Once everyone was comfortable, what the room honed in on was that the only thing in anyone’s control was their actions. It wasn’t unfounded. Lloyd said the best thing we can do is  “go to counseling.” She wasn’t wrong. Like many positive activities and habits it’s better to start earlier.

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