Protective factors associated with positive mental health in traditional and nontraditional Black students

Am J Orthopsychiatry. 2020;90(1):147-160. doi: 10.1037/ort0000409. Epub 2019 Mar 28.


Black students have higher levels of psychological distress compared with other students, in part to racism and discrimination; however, help-seeking remains low. As a result, most research has been deficit-based focusing on mental illness, which provides an incomplete state of their mental health. Therefore, very little is known about positive mental health (PMH), which is composed of social, emotional, and psychological well-being. To better understand their complete state of mental health, this study examined variations in levels of PMH among 235 Black traditional (ages 18 to 25) and nontraditional (ages 26+) college students attending historically Black colleges and universities and predominantly White institutions, in addition to identifying protective mechanisms promoting flourishing within these subgroups. The sample included 156 traditional college students (Mage = 20.88, SD = 2.12; 83% female) and 79 nontraditional college students (Mage = 36.06, SD = 36.1; 80% female). Approximately 54.4% of nontraditional students were flourishing compared with 43.6% of traditional students who were moderately mentally healthy. No significant differences were found in PMH among Black students attending historically Black colleges and universities and predominantly White institutions. Results indicate spirituality, social support, self-esteem, and racial identity (low centrality and high public regard) are associated with PMH in Black traditional students; however, spirituality, self-esteem, and racial identity (high public regard) were associated with PMH in nontraditional students. Our findings emphasize the importance of integrating identified protective mechanisms into existing programs and services to increase levels of flourishing among Black students within the college setting. Implications and recommendations for future research are provided. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Black or African American / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health*
  • Protective Factors
  • Religion and Psychology*
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Identification*
  • Social Support*
  • Students / psychology*
  • Universities
  • Young Adult