September 25, 2018
2 min read

College students of color more likely to have unmet mental health needs

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Study findings published in the Journal of Adolescent Health showed significant disparities in treatment across race/ethnicity among college students with mental health problems.

College students of color had greater levels of unmet mental health needs relative to white students, according to results from the nationally representative study.

“There is enormous unmet need for mental health services in college student populations writ large, and students of color represent a disparities population based on even greater unmet mental health needs relative to white students,” Sarah Ketchen Lipson, PhD, EdM, from Boston University School of Public Health , said in a press release. “Understanding and addressing the mental health needs of racially diverse students is essential to supporting their success and creating equity in other dimensions, including persistence and retention.”

Lipson and colleagues examined the prevalence of mental health problems and treatment utilization among more than 13,000 college students of color using data from 43,375 undergraduate and graduate students at 60 institutions that participated in the survey-based Healthy Minds Study from 2012 to 2015.

Researchers assessed data from African-American, Latinx, Asian/Asian-American and Arab/Arab-American students via bivariate and multivariate modeling to determine variations across race/ethnicity. They evaluated symptom prevalence for depression, anxiety and eating disorders, non-suicidal self-injury, suicidal ideation, any mental health issue and impairment, as well as help-seeking behaviors and treatment barriers.

The results showed modest variation in symptom prevalence and larger variation in mental health service utilization across race/ethnicity. Overall, 42% of the students experienced a mental health problem, with prevalence ranging from 40% among African-Americans to 53% for Arab/Arab-Americans, according to the press release. In total, 21% of African-American students with a mental health problem received a diagnosis compared with 48% of white students.

Students of color demonstrated lower treatment use than white students, even after controlling for other variables. White students with mental health conditions had the highest prevalence of treatment (46%), while Asian/Asian-American students with mental health conditions had the lowest prevalence (23%), according to the release. Furthermore, Asian/Asian-American participants had the lowest levels of perceived need for mental health treatment.

Attitudes related to mental health treatment also varied significantly, the researchers found. Arab/Arab-American students demonstrated the lowest knowledge of mental health resources — with 52% reporting that they knew where to receive mental health services — and white students demonstrated the highest knowledge. Perceived stigma ranged from 52% among white students to 63% among African-Americans, and personal stigma from 6% among African-Americans to 35% among Asian international students.

“This study offers important evidence of mental health disparities among college students of color, particularly with regard to treatment,” Lipson and colleagues wrote in the full study. “The challenge for researchers, policymakers and practitioners will be to develop and disseminate programs that effectively reach students of color, recognizing unique needs within and across racial/ethnic groups.”

These findings further support survey data from a large sample of U.S. college students reported in in Depression & Anxiety.

The study revealed a high rate of multiple stress exposures among this population, which was strongly linked to a greater risk for suicide attempts and mental health diagnoses, and showed that racial/ethnic, gender and sexual minority students were especially vulnerable. The study found that racial/ethnic minority students were generally less likely to report mental health diagnoses than white students. Moreover, Asian youth showed significantly higher levels of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts than white students, according to the results. – by Savannah Demko

Disclosure: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.