Black Students Face Looming Mental Health Crisis

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By the age of 35, about two-thirds of men in the U.S. will experience some appreciable degree of hair loss. Past research has shown that a person’s family history, hormonal changes, medical conditions, and medications can all increase a person’s risk of hair loss, but a new study has found that a startling problem can also lead to hair loss — and worse.

“Weathering the cumulative effects of living in a society characterized by white dominance and privilege produces a kind of physical and mental wear-and-tear that contributes to a host of psychological and physical ailments,” said study author Ebony McGee, an assistant professor of diversity and urban schooling at Vanderbilt. “We have documented alarming occurrences of anxiety, stress, depression and thoughts of suicide, as well as a host of physical ailments like hair loss, diabetes and heart disease.”

Researchers at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development argue that a looming mental health crisis is being overlooked. Black college students who have to draw on their “grit” — their mental resiliency — to achieve in predominantly white academic institutions may be doing so at the risk of their health.

Although every college student is required to be mentally tough, black students also have to bear the burden of proving their intellectual worth in the face of overt and/or covert racism, a hardship that takes its toll mentally and physically.

The buzzword “grit” has come to describe the type of determination necessary for academic success, but has also become particularly associated with the successes of students from disadvantaged communities and communities of color. They may have to overcome such challenges as under-staffed and under-resourced schools that also suffer from higher levels of drug and violence, as well as potentially missing support systems at home.

“The process of healing from racial battle fatigue and institutional racism requires significant internal commitment and external support,” reads the study. “Black college students are brilliant, talented, and creative, and they dream as big as other students. Pursuing higher education should not make them sick.”

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