ALEXANDRA WILLIAMS, A JUNIOR AT YALE, KNOWS WHAT SHE WOULD DO IF confronted with a friend or classmate who is dealing with a mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression. "The first thing I would do is validate their feelings," she says.
Williams is a national youth adviser with The Steve Fund, a Providence, Rhode Island-based organization that supports the mental health and emotional well-being of students of color. It was founded two years ago, after the death of Stephen Rose, a Harvard alumnus who at age 29 took his own life. Williams says it isn't unusual for students of color to minimize or dismiss their emotional pain. "Many feel that now that they are in college and have this wonderful opportunity that so many people who look like them don't have, how could they have any struggles?"
But often the turmoil is real. "It's not about comparative pain or comparative struggle--my problems in comparison to yours." Their thoughts are valid--they don't need to be compared to anyone else's experience.
A political science major who isn't planning to pursue the mental health field professionally, Williams learned about the need for validation through her work with The Steve Fund. After Steve's death, the Rose family marshaled its grief and created the Fund to address issues such as stigma and fear, as well as lack of access to mental health services in communities of color.
"We didn't want any other family to go through what we'd been through," says Evan Rose, president of the Fund and one of Steve's brothers. "So we hoped to figure out some ways to make an impact."
The organization seeks to accomplish four main goals--to build knowledge and thought leadership; create programs and strategic partnerships; promote awareness and dialogue; and produce technological innovation--as well as review current research and conduct surveys to learn the most effective means of meeting the mental health needs of students of color.
In the mental health field, is there a need for such a narrow focus? Yes, says Alfiee M. Breland-Noble, Ph.D., senior adviser and health disparities researcher who counsels the Fund on the science related to the mental health of students and other young people of color.
"People ask, 'How is it that a young Latina's anxiety looks different from that of a white person's?' Well, it does--because there may be cultural aspects of managing her anxiety that make it...