Dealing with mental health as a black college student

Kayla Lipscomb | Staff Writer

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Kayla Lipscomb

To be black is one thing, but to struggle with mental health while being black is another.

The black community endures various obstacles such as societal and economic injustice due to discrimination tactics. While our ancestors may have paved the road for the betterment of African Americans during the civil rights movement, it is still under construction with many detours due to the “under the rug” mentality that navigates and deteriorate us from completion.

Senior biology major Maya Gaines-Smith is quite passionate about the subject of mental health in the black community.

“Mental health issues is like trying to tread water with cement blocks on your feet,” Gaines-Smith said. “There’s only so much you can tread before you get exhausted.”

Gaines-Smith serves as the treasurer for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) on Hampton University’s campus.

During the spring 2018 semester, Gaines-Smith presented research on transgenerational trauma in the African American community.

Transgenerational trauma is trauma transferred over generations through DNA that makes an individual more likely to have mental illnesses.

After more than 300 years of brutal slavery trauma, it’s vital to recognize all black people are exposed and prone to mental illness.

According to NAMI, “African Americans are more than 20 percent likely to experience serious mental illness than the general population due to unmet needs and other barriers.”

The daily life of an African American makes them more prone to mental health issues, but they are most likely to avoid seeking help.

“In African American communities, we are taught to throw these away, hide it and pray,” Gaines-Smith said. “You can pray and still go to therapy.”

Since the black community heavily depends on religion, when discussing mental health, some view it as a punishment from God or avoid admitting to suffering from mental health issues because it can be viewed as weak or vulnerable.

The idea that a black person is the epitome of durability and perfect all the time has become destructive to one’s self and can be fatal. Suicide among young African Americans, especially black men, is increasing rapidly.

As students at an HBCU, carrying the weight of adjusting to college, finding yourself and living as a person of color can be difficult.

“There’s always stress being a student balancing student life and college,” Gaines-Smith said. “People come to Hampton and see the facade pushed by faculty and students, leaving people to feel like they don’t have spaces to be themselves. Not everyone has the same voice, and that can leave them drowned out if [they are] not represented.”

Hampton University has a unique culture that can feel impossible for some students to adjust. We may all be Hamptonians, but we all cannot adapt to Hampton as easily as others, which can help isolate students.

However, a rise in organizations and mental health specialists helps to tackle the stigma of mental illness and allows representation and space for students struggling with these issues.

Organizations such as Peer Counselors, NAMI on Campus and the Psychology Club open a discussion to address this taboo topic.

It is vital to use resources such as the Counseling Center, which emphasizes the need to simply just talk to someone and can open up a realm of possibilities.

Mental health can’t be improved overnight. It is a lifelong journey to create a healthy regimen to become resilient to everyday hardships.

So just know it is OK not to be OK, and go talk to someone.

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