African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental distress than white Americans but less likely to report signs of mental health distress and suicidal thoughts. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for African American men of all ages, but they are among the least likely populations to seek mental health support. Many college campuses have counseling and psychological services to help students through these issues; however, as demand increases for mental health services, students frequently experience long wait times to speak with counselors.
Two programs have developed strategies to reduce reliance on overworked counselors and combat the stigma around mental health by promoting positive mental health conversations among Black men.
Asynchronous discussions for Black men provide accessible support
One program that uses peer conversations to foster a culture of well-being and (ideally) preempt the need for mental health services is YBMen. YBMen is a time-bound program that operates discussion forums on a private Facebook page where Black men respond to structured prompts.
Students can respond to discussion prompts when convenient, making the program more accessible for busy students. Students are not required to participate in each discussion or to be currently experiencing mental health distress. Black men who might be uncomfortable speaking with a counselor because of the stigma around mental health can practice discussing emotions and mental health topics without the pressure of weekly in-person interactions or face-to-face discussions.
Timeline for the YBMen program
Culturally relevant prompts for conducive conversation between young men
YBMen staff post prompts that relate to pop culture and current events that reflect the issues Black college men are facing, moving away from more clinical conversations that students might not be as interested in participating in. For two to 12 weeks, participants discuss the prompts in small groups of roughly 20 students, which helps them be more open with each other and feel less fear of judgment.
High engagement across five institutions
Over 800 men have participated in YBMen at its five college partners over nine years, according to YBMen’s website. Roughly 94% of participants viewed the Facebook group weekly, and about 83% actively engaged with the posts. Students in the pilot program at Jackson College also experienced a decrease in depression symptoms.
A mental health toolkit for conversations between Black men
The National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHHD) developed the Brother You’re On My Mind (BYOMM) toolkit based on research that showed a gap in depression treatment for college-aged Black men. The toolkit includes five types of materials:
Students and college staff can easily download the toolkit online, making it accessible even for colleges where staff may be overwhelmed.
Simulating difficult mental health conversations
Fraternity brothers in Omega Psi Phi use the exercises in the BYOMM toolkit to simulate difficult mental health conversations and help to eliminate the stigma around mental health. During the ‘Practicing the Ask’ exercise, students pair up, role play as a concerned loved one and a person in distress using suggested scenarios, then reconvene as a group and talk about their experience.
By simulating difficult discussions, engaging with community partners, and understanding signs of depression, students will be better equipped to support each other during times of crisis and more likely to value mental health. Fraternity leaders can download the toolkit materials and view a recorded webinar online at no cost.
EAB has done extensive research on student mental health and student success. Check out our mental health resource center for more information and to read up on how to create a culture of well-being on campus.
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