CAPS has a remedy for students of color struggling to find mental health support

Diana J. Smith

For many years there were stigmas surrounding seeking mental health support in communities of color. Now that people of color are searching for resources, they are having trouble finding it.

Karly Smith, a senior studying sociology and co-chairperson for P.E.A.C.E, a Black-centered mental health student organization, said economic constraints and finding professionals that share their identities make seeking help difficult.

“In communities of color, there’s a lack of health insurance and access to being able to find a therapist that you can identify with, and with all those different barriers, it can be really hard,” Smith said. 

Ayah Eltayeb, a sophomore studying psychology, believes there needs to be more therapists that people of color can relate to in order for them to seek help.

“I would love to see more therapists and other therapists of color,” she said. “I think that is a huge first step to feel as though you have some sort of kinship with your therapist, and you guys view each other as more than just clients, but rather like people.”

In September of 2020, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) launched a program that would do just that. The Multicultural Health Program (MCHP), a program co-facilitated by Erinn Scott and Cherish Williams, two Black female psychologists at CAPS, serves Black, Indigenous and other students of color. MCHP features four Black female therapists that students can request to work with. 

“The main goal of MCHP program is to be forward facing, to go into student groups and organizations, doing outreach and being present in student meetings,” Scott said. “We want you all to know that if and when you’re ready to start seeking support, CAPS is here and here’s the program that we have for you.”

MCHP offers Black and brown students four opportunities: group therapy, brief therapy, outreach events and liaison relationships between students and CAPS mental health providers. MCHP has partnerships with minority student groups and organizations, including the American Indian Center,  Carolina Firsts and the Carolina Covenant Scholars offices. 

“We value that connectedness and that sort of interdependence that we know Black and brown communities have,” Scott said. “So, it’s important for us to ask permission to come into those spaces.”

Jasmine Mobley, a junior studying sociology, said her identity as a Black woman wasn’t prioritized by her white doctor, making it difficult to find help.

Jasmine Mobley, a junior majoring in sociology and women’s and gender studies, poses for a virtual portrait at her family home in Charlotte, NC, on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. “It’s gotten better,” says Mobley of her mental health, as she continues her search for a therapist. “When the pandemic started it kind of went off the rails.”

“My primary care physician is white and the list of therapists that she gave to me was mostly white,” Mobley said. “It didn’t seem like she was trying to meet me where I was—it was just a list.”

Scott said CAPS works to prioritize inclusivity, and allows students to request to work with mental health providers that share their identities. She said students can specifically request a therapist of color or the Multicultural Health Program.

“Especially if there’s race-based trauma that I want to talk about and I want the person that I’m sharing that with to understand that experience,” she added.

One misconception about CAPS is that there is a session limit that students can’t exceed. Scott said CAPS only refers students out if there is a severe need that exceeds the length of the academic semesters.

“What we call open-ended therapy in the community is designed so that if it takes you two months, or two years you’re not limited by the semester schedule,” Scott said.

Agisanyang Molapisi, a senior studying global studies, said her CAPS social worker was diligent in the referral process.

Agisanyang Molapisi, a senior global studies and psychology double major, poses for a portrait at her Chapel Ridge apartment on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. “My room is my safe haven,” says Molapisi. “I try to make it as “me” as possible so I enjoy being here.”

“I had a really good experience at CAPS,” Molapisi said. “My social worker who referred me out was amazing and he made sure that I found a Black mental health professional outside of CAPS.”

Smith said she hopes that in addition to having professionals of color, others will learn more about mental health and the barriers in different communities.

“I think it’s everybody’s job to educate themselves and educate others about it,” she said. 

Scott is optimistic about the future of CAPS based on the comprehensive work that is being done within the department.

“We have really committed to doing our own work as CAPS providers,” she said. “Bringing in speakers and doing readings and coming together and saying, ‘How can we really live the value of inclusivity’.”


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