There has been troubling news about the mental health of African-American children. While suicide rates in the United States have traditionally been higher among whites than blacks across all age groups, a 2018 study published in JAMA Pediatrics found suicide rates for black children aged 5-12 were roughly two times higher than those of similarly aged white children.
"What does it mean to be African-American in this society that we have seen a doubling of the suicide rate among children aged 5 to 12 over a 20-year window?" said David Williams, chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
A survey two years ago asked college students of color about their top concerns. "The biggest concern of these students was aggressive policing -- am I even going to make it home tonight? A second big concern was high levels of community violence and the third one was about financial stress, their ability to make it and the stability of their housing," said Williams. Such feelings of uncertainty, fear and hopelessness "are the recipe for mental health challenges, for being overwhelmed by stress," he said.
"Mental health concerns are like off the charts," said Wilson "If we recognize that, if they're off the charts in general, and students of color are less likely to be aware of the services, less likely to be diagnosed and less likely to be treated, that really brings into focus the institutional responsibility. We cannot presume that the mental health services set up for one audience are suitable for all audiences. If I don't believe you want me here, I'm not inclined to come in and get your services."
Wilson said students of color bypass university services for the same reason they peer into the barbershop at the student center and keep walking. "If all the barbers look like Donald Trump, for instance, people are not going to guess you know something about me. It is the institution's responsibility to lower the barriers."
Often, students of color seek out each other to carve out safe places where they can be honest and be heard. Acknowledging the "sub family" he relied on while at Harvard grad school, Wilson said those informal support networks don't absolve universities of fostering a welcoming environment campus-wide. "We want the whole campus to be a safe space, the whole community to be a safe space."