View from waiting room of CAPS office at Watkins Health Center.

When Sharee Smallwood, Counseling and Psychological Services licensed master social worker, asked students at a recent forum on black mental health issues why they were there, there was no shortage of replies.

One student said mental health in the black community isn’t "popular" to discuss. Another said the topic takes her out of her comfort zone. A third mentioned that black students aren’t comfortable talking about their personal feelings with someone who isn’t black.

Their answers made apparent why the National Panhellenic Council, which represents the nine historically African-American Greek lettered fraternities and sororities on campus, sponsored the forum "Mental Health in the Black Community,” at the Kansas Union on Sept. 14th.

The issue of stress among black students at a predominately white institution often goes unrecognized, according to experts.  

According to research by University alumna, Anita Easterwood, “Racism produces race-related stress, which has been linked with psychological and health issues, such as low self-esteem, concentration issues, anxiety, and depression.”

Black students have the same academic concerns as other students about graduating on time and making good grades, but sometimes questioning their existence on a predominately white college and could possibly hinder their success.

Smallwood said students often don’t have the proper coping mechanisms and resources to deal with such problems.

She advised two dozen students who attended the Thursday seminar to create their own self-care routine, such as having regular community engagement, taking stock of their values, developing their own set of coping skills and asking for help.

Students who were present at the forum said they wanted to learn about this issue to help not just themselves, but others.

"We are the next generation to raise kids," said sophomore Kasi Ross. He said he wanted to make it easier for his generation to be able to discuss mental health issues.

Before wrapping up, Smallwood advised students to monitor behavior changes in others for signs of mental illness and offered the following tips for intervening:

  • Never try to tell people what they should and should not do.

  • Check in with them more than once.

  • Do not take on a friends’ problems as your own, but be the vessel to help them.

  • If a friend has talked about self-harm and you haven't heard from them in a while call 911 and ask for a welfare check.

  • Listen to a friend without interruptions.

Edited by Forest Lassman