Mental Health, Identity, and Race

Our culture, beliefs, gender identity, sexual orientation, values, race, and language all affect how we perceive and experience the world.

Feeling comfortable sharing your identity and background is an important part of feeling at home while you’re at school. Making an effort to understand and welcome the identities and backgrounds of the students you meet will make school a richer, more comfortable, and safer space for everyone.

Mental Health and Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Research, including the Proud and Thriving Framework released by JED, has found that LGBTQ college students have higher rates of substance misuse, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts than their straight, cisgender peers. Much of that increase has to do with the bias and discrimination many queer and trans students experience at home, in school, or in the world. One way to reduce those numbers is by creating inclusive spaces where LGBTQ students feel they belong. 

How to increase your understanding and inclusiveness.

Although some of us come to college with a healthy understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity that benefits everyone, others come with ideas that may be causing themselves or others harm. Remember that whatever your ideas about sexual orientation or gender identity—or anything else—they are allowed to change. Change is a sign of learning and growth, and it begins with understanding sexual orientation and gender identity.

Ways you can be an ally to the LGBTQ community at your school:

  • Reflect on your own sexual orientation and gender identity and how they influence the way you interact with your LGBTQ friends.
  • Share your pronouns. Ask friends and family about their pronouns and use them. 
  • Step in if you see anti-LGBTQ behavior, and check in with the folks who experienced it.
  • Show up to Pride and other events throughout the year that raise up the LGBTQ community and create connections.

How to take care of your mental health if you identify as LGBTQ.

As with everyone, making self-care a habit can help you improve and maintain your mental health. The Trevor Project put together this at-a-glance self-care guide specifically for LGBTQ youth.

Ways to take care of your mental health

  • Find community with other LGBTQ students and allies.
  • Connect with a support system that accepts and embraces you. See what groups your college has for LGBTQ students. 
    • Here are other places to find support and community:
      • TrevorSpace from @trevorproject
      • It Gets Better Project @itgetsbetter
      • LGBT National Help Center @lgbt_national_hotline
      • CenterLink: The Community of LGBTQ Centers @lgbtcenterlink
  • Reflect on the qualities that make you special in a journal, on your phone, or through art.
  • Practice self-compassion: speak to yourself kindly, do things that you enjoy and make you feel good physically, and take breaks from stressful situations. 
  • Pause and breathe when you feel stressed or overwhelmed. 
  • Find a therapist you trust so you have a safe space to share and be heard.

If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right away, reach out for confidential, trained support 24/7.

Mental Health and Race

For students of color, there is often an added stressor to the everyday challenges of college and life: racism and discrimination. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, racism is “policies, behaviors, rules, etc., resulting in a continued unfair advantage to some people and unfair or harmful treatment of others based on race.” Research shows that students of color who are impacted and harmed by racism deal with feelings of isolation, anxiety, and stress, which can be challenging to their mental health. 

If you experience racism and discrimination—or the stress that comes from it—then it’s important to remember that none of it is your fault. Experiences of racism are outside your control, but there are steps you can take to heal, build your resilience, and reawaken your sense of identity, worth, and optimism. Seeking support is not a cure for racism, but it can be an essential step toward self-empowerment and nurturing your mental and emotional health.

Culturally inclusive resources, tips, and strategies for coping with racism and protecting your mental health.

How racism can affect mental health

Since racism and discrimination are, unfortunately, a part of our everyday experiences, it may be difficult to understand the impact racism has on your mental health, communicate what you are experiencing or witnessing, or recognize moments when individual actions may unintentionally perpetuate racism and discrimination. However, college is a great place to grow, learn, and unlearn, and it can start with getting a good understanding of racism and bias and their impacts.

The power of self-care

Self-care for people of color is an act of resistance. Advocating for and pouring into yourself in meaningful ways can lead to a sense of empowerment and justice. Learn how to respond to racism, discrimination, and bias. If you find yourself practicing several forms of self-care that haven’t been impactful yet, then be kind and compassionate with yourself. It may take some time.

Identity and mental health

Explore NAMI’s work on identity and cultural dimensions to see how identity affects mental health and coping mechanisms.

How to find culturally competent care

Everyone deserves caring, respectful, fair support and mental health services from a place of understanding your experiences and background. Unfortunately, people of color often face barriers when seeking professional care such as therapy and counseling. Find out about the benefits of having a therapist who understands your cultural background and then check out JED’s guide to finding culturally competent therapy.

Other Ways to Take Care of Your Mental Health

If you witness or are a victim of acts of racial violence or discrimination, then follow these guidelines from JED.

Finding your support network: Everyone needs a safe space to be with like-minded individuals who share their beliefs and values. Many people find safety in peer support through activism, peer support clubs such as NAMI on Campus, or virtual peer groups such as Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM)—any place that ensures your voice is heard, allows you to give power to your experiences, and creates a much-needed safety net in the opportunity to recharge, destress, and nurture your mental health.

Remembering your worth: Take time to praise yourself and think about what you’re proud of, the characteristics that make you unique, the qualities you love about yourself, and the accomplishments of yourself and your community. There is a long way to go, but it’s important to reflect on where you currently are and how amazing that is.

Mental Health College Guide
Mental Health College Guide

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If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health, suicide or substance use crisis or emotional distress:

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