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What We’re Reading – College Student Mental Health

Degrees of Distress: How Higher Education Institutions are Harming and Helping Student Mental Health

“Regarding community of origin connections, research indicates that culture-based programs, courses, and organizations in higher education can allow students to maintain important connections to their home communities while also fostering meaningful connections with people on campus. When institutions reflect and engage the cultural values and identities of students and their families, students experience more inclusive environments that lead to an increased sense of belonging.” *

– Excerpt from Degrees of Distress

“I definitely struggled to find community and a sense of belonging on campus, but that struggle was exacerbated when I transferred to a 4-year university,” says Vanessa Rodriguez (pictured right), former transfer student from San Joaquin Delta College, recent graduate of UC Berkeley, and administrative assistant at College Futures Foundation.

“During my entire college experience, I did not have any financial support from my family to attend, and much of my time at home was spent taking care of my grandmother who I lived with. At community college, most of my other classmates had some of the same things going on in their lives as I did. Many of them worked multiple jobs and supported family members. I also benefited from joining a club at community college.”

“At my 4-year school, I found that most of my classmates came from middle-class or wealthy backgrounds and I struggled to relate to them. I tried to join social clubs, but I felt so much pressure to exceed academically, and still had to work two jobs to support myself, so I didn’t have time to attend meetings. Those struggles definitely exacerbated my mental health. My mentor really saved me during that first year after I transferred, and he intentionally introduced me to other students who I could relate to. Many campus faculty also did not have the same lived experience as I do. I grew up without a lot of the family supports that other students have and it took a lot of resilience to figure everything out on my own. As a student, when you go to faculty for help and say, ‘this is me, this is my situation and I need help,’ it makes a huge difference to have faculty who are also willing to be that vulnerable with you and share their story. I could trust that they believed me when I shared my struggles, and I didn’t have to explain things to them. Eventually, with support from faculty and community that I trusted, I was able to engage in therapy weekly and receive treatment for my diagnosis. I strongly encourage higher education institutions to prioritize hiring mental health professionals, but also counselors, student mentors and other faculty who have the same lived experiences and identities as students who would benefit the most from support services.”

*To view the full list of citations for this excerpt, download the full Degrees of Distress report here.