Abstract: Examining the Black-White Paradox of Mental Health in College Students (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

All live presentations are in Eastern time zone.

480P Examining the Black-White Paradox of Mental Health in College Students

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Dawnsha Mushonga, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Baltimore, Baltimore, MD
Angela K. Henneberger, PhD
Background and Purpose: In the U.S., Blacks have been subjected to a long history riddled with racism and discrimination, which has contributed to a host of health, social, and economic disparities. The disparities faced by Blacks, coupled with disproportionate poverty, leads one to presume that Blacks experience worse mental health outcomes relative to Whites; however, research finds Blacks to experience similar or better mental health outcomes than Whites. This phenomenon is characterized as the Black-White paradox in mental health (BWPMH) because of the unexpected nature of the results. Prior research on the BWPMH has focused on the general adult population; however, college students, and black college students in particular, experience unique adversities, such as academic, social, and financial stressors, in addition to race-related stressors, that uniquely affect their mental well-being. This study fills an important gap by assessing variations in mental health between Black and White students and identifying psychosocial correlates (e.g., self-esteem, social support, and spirituality) that can be targeted to promote positive mental health (PMH) within each subgroup.

Methods: Data were collected from 356 undergraduate college students attending three universities: two historically Black colleges/universities (HBCUs) in the eastern region of the U.S. and one large predominantly White institution (PWI) in the southern region of the U.S. Due to previous studies comprising a small number of minorities, this study intentionally targeted HBCUs to obtain increased representation from Black students. Amongst the participants, 192 (54%) self-identified as White and 164 (46%) as Black. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 58 years (M = 21.72, SD = 5.31). The sample was primarily female (80%) and resided off-campus (57%). Most Black students reported attending an HBCU (82%) while the majority of White students reported attending a PWI (97%). All statistical analyses (e.g. chi-square, t-tests, and regression) were performed using SPSS 24.0.

Results: This study confirms the existence of a BWPMH within the college student population: Black students were found to display similar levels of mental health compared to White students. Results showed Black students (M = 20.99, SD = 6.55) reported significantly higher levels of self-esteem than White students (M = 18.42, SD = 5.98; t(354) = 3.87, p < .001). Additionally, White students (M = 68.46, SD = 10.92) reported higher levels of social support than Black students (M = 62.69, SD = 15.26; t(354) = -4.04, p < .001). Surprisingly, no significant racial differences were observed for spirituality between Black (M = 40.46, SD= 9.67) and White students (M = 39.92, SD = 7.82; t(354) = -.58, p = .56).

Conclusions and Implications: This is the first study to examine the BWPMH in college students. Given prior research surrounding the importance of mental health for college students and the stark differences observed in the experiences of Black and White college students, understanding the BWPMH is germane to promoting and sustaining flourishing levels of mental health. A discussion will focus on implications for research, policy, and practice.