For five months, the United States has been entangled in a turbulent relationship with the COVID-19 pandemic while also witnessing countless reprehensible acts caused by systemic racism within the justice system.
For students of color, the already complicated situation has become more complex with a new semester on the horizon. Now, while trying to assimilate to a new “normal” on a global scale, students have been met with another on an academic one.
However, students of color don’t have to confront these new stressful situations alone.
“I know a lot of us are balancing school, work, and then everything with the systemic racism, so having someone to vent to is really important,” said Jamaria Hill, a junior at The University of Alabama and the vice president of My Mind Matters, a student organization on campus that focuses on the mental health and the wellness of Black students.
Hill said the organization was created to allow Black students to have a safe space to have essential discussions about mental health.
“Students are dealing with a lot right now,” said Jennifer Turner, the Coordinator of Clinical Services at UA’s Counseling Center.
She said, having to leave campus and deal with loss of all kinds abruptly has created an environment where “people aren’t maybe coping at their best.”
“Then we started to have the protests and being a black identifying woman myself; I know how stressful that’s been for me,” Turner said.
To combat that stress, Turner helped create a virtual support group within the Counseling Center called “Coping with a time of growth and change: a support group for Black and African American identified students.”
The support group will touch on emotional and social health, role expectations, and more.
Though these discussions about mental health are needed, they don’t always happen as often as possible.
According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Black Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population.
Furthermore, according to The Washington Post, anxiety and depression symptoms in African Americans have tripled since 2019, rising from 8% to 34%.
But despite these very real mental health concerns, the combination of socioeconomic disparities, inequality of care and social stigma prevents most Black people from getting the treatment they need.
“I think we may not have these conversations because of the negative outlook that the black community sometimes has when it comes to mental health,” Hill said. “I just know a lot of the older generation believes that stuff like that can be fixed through prayer, church and things like that, and that’s not necessarily true.”
Hill said to fix anything, you have to have conversations with people who understand what you’re going through.
However, before learning how to cope with a mental health issue, individuals must first acknowledge the problem and understand that everyday things can be triggers.
Although it has been vital in spreading news and the important narratives of activists during protests, for some people social media is triggering. With many videos circulating platforms depicting Black people being murdered, violent encounters at protests, biased reporting from news outlets and more, some have difficulty staying informed while also staying in the right mind frame.
“We’ve seen enough videos of people dying,” Turner said.
She said she avoids videos like that and preferred news outlets like NPR because they usually do not engage in sensationalism.
“That’s a way I protect myself, and that’s a way I have to protect myself,” Turner said.
Hill and Turner both agreed that curating a positive feed is essential for maintaining mental health on social media.
Hill said to benefit her mental health, she sometimes dials back her social media consumption and takes a personal day.
“Every now and then, it’s kind of needed,” she said.
Lux Murray, a lead organizer of T-Town Freedom Marches, uses what he sees as fuel in the fight for change.
“Currently, with everything going on, I get tired of seeing the things that have been happening for so long. That’s why I continue to throw protests because I want to see a change in this country,” Murray said.
While protesting can be fuel for some, it might not be the best idea for others, but there are still ways to help.
Turner said because of a preexisting injury, it was not safe for her to attend protests, so instead she bought masks for the protestors. She recalled a friend who could not participate in protests either but decided to help with bailout funds.
“Figure out what you can do,” she said. “It is just as important as being on the front line; you have to provide respite for those who are on the front line.”
Turner said at times, people feel guilty for doing what they need to to stay healthy, but people have to do what’s right for them “so that you can go out there and deal with anti-blackness and racism.”
Whether you are on the front lines or just offering support, mental health is still an important part of living a happy life while also fighting for change.
“It’s okay to take a day every now and then,” Hill said. “It’s okay not to be okay.”
Hill said it is important to take mental health seriously before it gets to the point where it’s overwhelming because moods like that can be hard to get out of.
“Mental health is very important to me. Your mind is important. If you need to take time to yourself to get your mind together, then do so,” Murray said. “I’m going to continue the fight, and so whenever they get their mind together, then they can come back and join us but take care of your mind before you worry about anything else.”
Regarding the importance of mental health, Turner recalled the words of a friend who said, “I’m not someone who can go out and march currently, but I’m raising my children to be joyful, and that’s radical.”
“If you think about it, it is,” Turner said. “The people who don’t care for us and do not love us do not want to see us be joyful and be happy, and I think that’s important as well as getting out and exercising your right to vote.”