University Health Services and the Multicultural Student Center came together Tuesday evening to host an open discussion addressing the stigma and barriers male-identifying students of color face when seeking mental health care.

The discussion was moderated by UHS mental health providers Corey Steele and Ben Heinrichs, as well as special assistant and adviser for the Posse program Albert Muñiz.

Steele said discussing mental health is important to help eliminate the stigma behind it.

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“Rate of suicide for black men has doubled since the 1980s and then if we think about intersecting identities, think about experiences like racism, there are certainly mental health implications for racism as well,” Steele said.

Steele was recently hired by UHS to serve as a mental health provider with a student of color focus, as he is one of the few providers of color at UHS. Heinrichs said that he has had students of color request a counselor of color and before Steele was hired, they were denied.

Heinrichs said the lack of options available to students seeking mental health professionals of color made seeking help even more difficult.

“There’s this big disparity and additional stigma around seeking help, matched with there’s literally less doors to knock on that would be open or that would feel welcoming,” Heinrichs said.

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Another potential barrier, Muñiz said, is that many of the young people he hears from don’t think they can take time off to focus on mental health, because they will fall too far behind academically. He cautioned, however, that students must seek mental health care before it becomes a crisis and they have to miss even more school.

UHS’s policy of allowing up to 10 counseling sessions a year was brought up as well, and Heinrichs added that this limit does not allow for enough support.

“UHS sells this brief intermittent model of 10 sessions and how much good work can be done in 10 sessions … but that is not really acknowledging the fact that that is best designed for a situational type issue, not when you have the support for an hour and then go back into a community that reinforces and continuously builds and piles on the contributing things that aren’t going away,” Heinrichs said.

While both Heinrichs and Steele agreed that more work needs to be done, they ended by saying that plans to create a social support group for men of color are in the works.