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Alyssa Evans Alec Regimbal

A national study calling for improved mental health support for students of color did not surprise administrators in Western’s counseling and health centers.

The question those administrators now face is how to make those improvements when the resources in place are already overwhelmed.

The study, conducted by nonprofit suicide prevention groups including the Jed Foundation and the Steve Fund, found caucasian students are 12 percent more likely than African-American students to feel more emotionally prepared than their peers, and that African-American students and Hispanic students are more likely to say it seems like everyone has college figured out but them.

It also found that students of color are 14 percent more likely to say they keep the difficulties of college to themselves, and less likely to report having been diagnosed or treated for things like anxiety, depression and self harm.

Western’s Counseling Center Director Shari Robinson said she was not surprised by these statistics.

“I have worked with first-generation college students for the last decade, and most of these students are students of color and come from lower socio-economic status  backgrounds. I have heard from countless first generation and minority students that have expressed similar experiences to these findings,” Robinson said in an email.

For Abigail Ramos, Associated Students vice president for diversity, the data confirms her experience at Western.

“As a student of color and a first-generation student, I haven’t really been able to find the campus resources that could help me with my identity. It’s actually been more my friends that also share the same identity or it’s been certain professors who have helped me,” she said.

Emily Gibson, the medical director of Western’s health center, also wasn’t surprised by the data found by the survey.

“Students of color access mental health services less often than white students, primarily because they often perceive greater stigma about admitting or disclosing anxiety, depression or suicidal ideation,” Gibson said in an email. “They accept struggle as part of everyday life as they have experienced more stress and struggle all their lives as part of the minority population, so they don't often perceive it as a mental health issue but rather just part of what they have to cope with.” 

The Counseling Center is offering a new support group geared toward first-generation students of color, and is reaching out to the Ethnic Student Center, Student Support Services, Compass 2 Campus and the Black Student Union to encourage students of color who need mental health support to come forward.

“I think it’s absolutely necessary,”  Ramos said.

She finds the support group to be important to the mental health of students of color on campus and hopes that students of color will be provided the resources that they need.

“I think it’s absolutely great they’re going to have this, except I would be very critical about what that support is going to look like and what exactly they’re going to be doing in that space,” she said.

Gabriel Ibanez, the AS ethnic student center internal coordinator, finds the support group to be a great place to start, but believes resources for students of color on campus have room for improvement.

“There’s not a lot of people we can identify with in those resources, for example the Counseling Center has a very Eurocentric way of thinking,” Ibanez said. “There aren't many people we can identify with and  understand the struggle people of color face.” 

The health center currently offers free mental health services to enrolled students, including mental health evaluations and ADHD treatment. Gibson said she couldn’t see the study’s data leading to any immediate change of policy at the health center, pointing to their current services already being completely maxed out.

Gibson said the best way to improve the health center’s resources is for students to  support targeted funding through increased fees.

Mental health support demand grew from serving 591 unique student cases in the 2011-12 school year, to serving 1,182 unique cases in the 2013-14 school year. The health center has added staff in the last year, but that staff is largely part-time and its total weekly hours represent only 2.2 full time employees.

Students taking at least six credits can make an appointment with the Counseling Center by calling (360) 650-3164 or by stopping by Old Main 540.

Students taking at least three credits can make an appointment with the Student Health Center by calling (360) 650-3400.


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