Ernest Owens | Not arriving: preserving minority health


The Ernest Opinion | Quakers of color are not immune from needing support


ernest

Ernest Owens
The Ernest Opinion

Photo by Ernest Owens


“I’m not crazy,” a close friend of mine told me last fall when I suggested he reach out to Counseling and Psychological Services to cope with some personal hardships. At first, I was surprised by his reaction. Then, I realized I had heard this excuse before.

It is not just something I hear from minority students on campus. Among professional and social circles that I am part of, there are negative attitudes among minorities when it comes to seeking therapy. Many people view it as a sign of weakness and are embarrassed to even talk about it.

Although I believe therapy can be beneficial, I still battle with the idea of disclosing some of the challenges I face. Perhaps it comes with being a Penn student. In a high-achieving environment where everyone is expected to excel, there is a constant pressure to appear in control of one’s life.

Throughout my two years at Penn, I have seen many friends — including the one who refused to go to CAPS — leave campus partly because of their struggles with mental wellness. It has made me realize that we must reassess what we are doing to help ourselves and those around us.

According to the Office of Minority Health, mental health resources such as CAPS are underutilized by minorities. Some attribute this to a cultural stigma. This theory is supported by a study published by the American Psychological Association, which showed that black college students are less likely than their white counterparts to seek counseling.

Nursing and College junior Spencer Stubbs said services like CAPS are crucial on a college campus and can be especially important when tackling early symptoms of mental illness.

“A very close friend of mine [went] through mild depression during his freshman year,” Stubbs, president of the Male Association of Nurses at University of Pennsylvania, said. The experience “was something that not only affected [my friend] personally but everyone around him.”

While Stubbs is all for his friends going to CAPS, students who are reluctant to do so may be influenced by negative attitudes from friends. Seemingly harmless jokes and terms like “crazy” can subconsciously send a negative message.

Minority students at Ivy League universities feel the need to live up to their reputation as scholars and intellectuals. Their friends and families who use labels such as “losing it” or “crazy” to describe mental illness can have a detrimental effect on students, making them less likely to seek help.

So I urge all of us — in our capacity as friends, peers, mentors and campus leaders — to remove the word “crazy” from our vocabulary whenever we speak about mental health. This seemingly minor change could have a powerful impact on how we approach mental wellness.

Students of color, like me, need to realize we do not have to deal with the pressures of college life on our own. We need to stop feeling like outsiders in our community and truly take advantage of the resources offered.

Every day, I see depressing posts on my Twitter and Facebook feeds about my friends’ family crises and academic hardships. I often wonder how many people actually recommend that those individuals seek outside intervention.

“I think that it is the responsibility of classmates, friends and family to recognize and encourage in a positive and appropriate manner those struggling with mental health to seek out help,” Nursing sophomore and MAN-UP president-elect Kendall Smith said.

Smith and Stubbs are hosting a event with other minority groups in the ARCH building on Thursday to combat the stigma surrounding therapy.

With Fling this weekend, my friend who left Penn last fall is on my mind. He will not be able to celebrate with us this year. Perhaps a greater nudge to go to CAPS may have made all the difference, but maybe not. One thing, though, is certain — I will no longer hide behind a cultural stereotype and avoid seeking help.

After all, it is only sane to seek counseling in times of hardship. It is crazy not to. Students of color are no exception to this prescription.

Ernest Owens, an Undergraduate Assembly representative, is a College sophomore from Chicago. His email address is owense@sas.upenn.edu. The Ernest Opinion appears every Friday.

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