Table of Contents
Colleges and universities are more diverse than ever. Forty-five percent of undergraduate students identify as people of color. And yet, healthcare disparities continue to exist. When students can’t find healthcare providers who resemble them, their beliefs, and their culture, the lack of diversity can keep them from getting the care they need.
Research shows that we trust people most like ourselves. Therefore, a diverse network of healthcare providers can reach a broader student demographic. Simply put, students feel more comfortable interacting with healthcare providers who have a similar background or identity (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, and/or geography).
How lack of representation impacts student populations
Despite increasing rates of college admissions and enrollment among Black, Asian, Hispanic, and other ethnic groups, they’re still less likely to graduate. Students of color experience low rates of retention and high dropout rates. They also have the highest borrowing ratios and the most significant student debt burden. And among those who graduate, they have lower salaries and higher unemployment rates than their white counterparts.
Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds reports that “students of color are more likely to experience racism, discrimination, Islamophobia, cyberbullying, verbal and physical assaults, and micro-aggressions on campuses and within their college towns and communities—all of which can damage their mental health. These experiences can also lead to alienation, isolation, substance use, suicidal ideation, and loneliness, further compounding the negative impact on mental health.” The Clay Center goes on to report that compared with white students, college students of color report higher rates of loneliness and emotional stress, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness.
While mental illness is similar across all racial groups, a systematic review by a Boston University School of Public Health researcher, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that students of color are less likely to be diagnosed and less likely to seek treatment. Barriers to treatment for young adults can be due to mental health stigma, lack of awareness of mental health services, and distrust of mental health professionals who lack cultural competence.
In contrast, the impact of mental health support for underrepresented students is overwhelmingly positive, according to Gallup and the Lumina Foundation’s report “Balancing Act: The Tradeoffs and Challenges Facing Black Students in Higher Education.” The report noted that 37% of Black bachelor’s students surveyed said that support from a school counselor or mental health professional was very important in being able to remain enrolled in their program. This is in comparison to 28% of all other students surveyed.
Discrimination is a major cause of mental health concerns in college as well. While already dealing with the challenges most college students experience—transitioning to a more independent life, managing classes, social pressures, and more—underrepresented students have to contend with biases from their peers, professors, and administrators. Also, Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) college students are often victims of imposter syndrome, meaning they feel they aren’t supposed to be a part of the college community. All of this can lead to various mental health problems.
Barriers to care and support resources for underrepresented college students
There are a variety of barriers that underrepresented students face while in school, ranging from family and cultural barriers to lack of income or school resources, including these common treatment barriers:
- Being a first-generation student: Students who are the first in their families to attend college are less likely to live on campus than students who aren’t in this category. BIPOC learners are more likely to be first-generation than white students. This means mental health resources on campus are less accessible when students commute to campus and don’t have extra time to seek campus resources.
- Lack of health insurance: BIPOC, immigrants, and English language learners disproportionately lack health insurance, particularly in states where Medicaid hasn’t been expanded.
- Low-income backgrounds: Many underrepresented university students come from low-income backgrounds and often work while attending college, resulting in having to choose between work and medical or mental health visits.
- Professors and faculty who don’t understand their needs
- Religious and cultural taboos
- Issues with mental health services providers
- Conscious and unconscious biases
- Minimal training in culturally-responsive treatment: There are only a few providers from underrepresented backgrounds or who speak languages other than English. There are even fewer practitioners who identify as both BIPOC and LGBTQ+.
- White physicians are less likely to recognize the severity of mental health issues in BIPOC students
- School mental health services: Non-white students are less likely to obtain mental health services within their schools before college.
Many organizations and colleges have developed programs to focus on college student mental health outcomes for students of color. These organizations include:
- Crisis Text Line: Nationwide crisis counselor support via text
- Kognito: Educating students and faculty about mental health and suicide prevention
- 7 Cups: Direct emotional support to students
- Young Black (YB) Men: Social media-based education for African American college students, a program to support young Black students
- Native American Cultural Center: Supporting the Native American student community
Mental health is one of the strongest predictors of students’ persistence and retention. So, initiatives like the ones above can help students prioritize their mental health and get the assistance they need—ultimately helping them graduate prepared for work, improving their social and economic standing, and empowering them to contribute to society.
Support students with a diverse provider network
How colleges and universities can support diverse student populationsProactive policies and procedures that support the mental health and emotional well-being of students of color and counteract negative forces that alienate and marginalize them can make a difference in students’ lives. Bradley University shares four steps that colleges and universities can take to better support underrepresented students:
1. Improve mentoring and guidance
2. Set clearer, more complete long-term achievement benchmarks for diversity
3. Increase diversity among faculty and staff
The statistic about diversity on college campuses noted above reveals leadership and faculty in higher education still fall short of reflecting students’ diversity. By hiring more diverse faculty and staff, colleges and universities can help ensure their leadership better reflects their student populations.
4. Create a rigorous yet personalized learning environment
Steps to support the mental health of diverse student populations
A recent article by Dr. Barrie Baker outlines three additional steps to specifically support mental health care for college students.
Students should be notified of and encouraged to engage with available wellness programs, including general care and wellness, behavioral health services, and financial wellness. Additionally, communication resources should be available in students’ native languages.
Through regular engagement with diverse students, including international students, students of color, and students with disabilities, as well as the partners who serve them, plans can be developed to improve students’ understanding and utilization of healthcare.
Programs should be put in place for students and other community members to get assistance regarding questions or concerns, including financial assistance.
How diverse student populations can benefit from virtual health care options
Virtual health and well-being solutions, such as TimelyCare, can be part of your strategy to improve student health by eliminating barriers and ensuring equitable, on-demand access to care. Virtual care options remove barriers by empowering students to access care anytime, anywhere. And with TimelyCare, students can get support via phone, video, or chat.
The TimelyCare virtual health and well-being platform includes a range of services, including mental health counseling, on-demand emotional support, medical care, psychiatry, health coaching, basic needs assistance, faculty and staff guidance, and digital self-care content. To help break down cultural stigmas, TimelyCare provides Self-Care Journeys, a guided experience that students can access 24/7 on topics like managing stress, maintaining healthy relationships, and healthy eating. And Peer Community offers anonymous peer support within the TimelyCare platform, providing students a place to connect with other students across the country who face similar challenges.
Now serving over 1.5 million college students, Inc. Magazine listed TimelyCare among the 10 fastest-growing health services companies in the country. This growth has been propelled, in part, by a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. For example, over 50% of our mental health providers identify as BIPOC—just one of many dimensions of our diverse provider network, which also includes providers who identify as LGBTQ+, speak multiple languages, and embrace and reflect students’ backgrounds, identities, and experiences.
And to better support students who may not be able to communicate with a provider in English, LanguageLine for TimelyCare allows a user to invite a clinically-trained interpreter into a virtual health session. By integrating LanguageLine, TimelyCare provides access to over 11,000 on-demand interpreters in over 240 languages.
TimelyCare’s complete virtual health and well-being solution serves as an extension of your on-campus health services, mental health support, and medical health care for college students. With 24/7/365 access to providers in all 50 states, TimelyCare can meet students where they are with the care they need.
Contact TimelyCare to learn how virtual mental health and medical care for colleges can make a difference in the lives of your students.