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The Impact of Academic Programs on Mental Health

This month we will be discussing the relationship between academic programs and mental health. This topic is applicable to many and will hopefully provide some insight one how to improve mental health amongst students. 

Mental illness is an increasing concern among all populations, and especially with college-aged students. One study found that “five percent of students do not finish their education due to psychiatric disorders” and estimated that “4.29 million people would have graduated from college had they not been experiencing such disorders” (Kessler, 1995). In fact, “In 2019, about 37% of high school students had experienced periods of persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness during the past year,” which led to students stopping their usual activities (CDC, 2019). Studies have shown that mental health status plays a significant role in a university student’s academic success. In a longitudinal study conducted in the Midwest, depression was shown to predict lower GPAs and be associated with a twofold increase in risk of dropout, even when controlling for prior academic performance and other variables. The findings of this study conclude that poor academic performance due to depression is strongly correlated with lower self-efficacy, motivation and satisfaction (Lipson, 2017). Therefore, it may be valuable to implement programs and services that foster self-efficacy, motivation, and satisfaction among students. This would lessen the decline of academic performance of those who struggle with mental illness. 

Another aspect of academic performance and mental health we have not discussed is how COVID-19 impacted students. Elementary and middle school aged children were shown to have a “increase in mental health problems and psychosocial adaptation problems” (Malboeuf-Hurtubise, 2020). In a randomized cluster trial, the children and adolescents had pre and post tests of anxiety and inattention. They were presented with two separate interventions; a mindfulness based intervention (MBI) that was based on introspection and identification of thoughts, and a philosophy for children (P4C) program that was a more directive approach to sensitive subjects like personal freedom, sadness, and death. Both interventions were found to be helpful in reducing anxiety and inattention, although the researchers speculated that combining the interventions would be most helpful in improving mental health (Malboeuf-Hurtubise, 2020).

Another study demonstrated that conducting a baseline screening for mental health of students entering universities could be a substantial predictor of future academic struggles and mental health decline. The strongest baseline predictor of Major Depressive Disoder (MDD) were previous suicide attempts and ideations, childhood-adolescent trauma, stressful experience in the last 12 months, and parental psychopathology. Early identification of students at risk for MDD may allow them to effectively deploy preventive interventions during college and thereby reduce the incidence, prevalence, severity, duration, and consequences of future depressive episodes as well as of other mental disorders (Ebert et al., 2018). 

How can we decrease the impact of mental health challenges on academic performance? Having a support system is a great start. A support system could include friends, parents, siblings, teachers, or anyone that makes the student feel safe and heard. Having an outlet to express frustrations and celebrate successes with is critical for anybody, especially those dealing with mental health challenges. Medication can also be extremely useful in helping students deal with their mental health challenges. For example, medication can help ease the symptoms of depression, which can allow students to focus on the cause of their mental health challenges through avenues like talk therapy and meditation. Therapy can teach individuals skills to help cope with their academic and nonacademic situations, and meditation helps individuals reflect on their thoughts and actions. A combination of all of these interventions is the most helpful in reducing stress, however, and is recommended for anybody experiencing mental and emotional challenges as a result of stress.

In conclusion, mental health is significantly correlated with a decline in academic performance. With certain preventative interventions as suggested in this article, the negative effects that mental health may have on academic performance can and will decrease. 

Resources for students struggling with mental health:

Text 741741 for help with an emotional or mental crisis. For more information, see the link below:

https://www.crisistextline.org/text-us/

Call 1-800-273-8255, that national suicide prevention lifeline, for help with an emotional or mental crisis. For more information:

Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for referral to local resources during a mental health (or substance abuse) crisis:

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

For more resources, visit the CDC website:

https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/tools-resources/individuals/index.htm

References

CDC. (2019). Youth risk behavior survey data summary & trends report: 2009–2019. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/YRBSDataSummaryTrendsReport2019-508.pdf

Ebert, D. D., Buntrock, C., Mortier, P., Auerbach, R., Weisel, K. K., Kessler, R. C., Cuijpers, P., Green, J. G., Kiekens, G., Nock, M. K., Demyttenaere, K., & Bruffaerts, R. (2018). Prediction of major depressive disorder onset in college students. Depression and Anxiety, 36(4), 294–304. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22867

Kessler, R. C., Foster, C. L., Saunders, W. B., & Stang, P. E. (1995). Social consequences of psychiatric disorders, I: Educational attainment. American Journal of Psychiatry, 152(7), 1026–1032. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/ajp.152.7.1026

Lipson, S. K., & Eisenberg, D. (2017). Mental health and academic attitudes and expectations in university populations: results from the healthy minds study. Journal of Mental Health, 27(3), 205–213. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09638237.2017.1417567

Malboeuf-Hurtubise, C., Léger-Goodes, T., Mageau, G., Joussemet, M., Herba, C., Chadi, N., Lefrançois, D., Camden, C., Bussières, E., Taylor, G., Éthier, M., & Gagnon, M. (2021). Philosophy for children and mindfulness during COVID-19: Results from a randomized cluster trial and impact on mental health in elementary school students. ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278584621000191?via%3Dihub

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