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There has been an alarming increase in the prevalence of mental health concerns amongst undergraduate students. Engineering students experiencing mental health distress are less likely to seek professional help than are non-engineering students. Lack of treatment can result in the escalation of mental health symptoms among engineering students. This study, supported by an NSF Research Initiation in Engineering Formation grant, focused on characterizing engineering students’ beliefs about seeking help for a mental health concern. Using the integrated behavioral model as a framework, 33 semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with engineering students from a wide range of majors, years of study, and social identity groups. Interviews were analyzed through deductive coding to identify key beliefs associated with help-seeking as defined by the integrated behavioral model. The beliefs identified include a desire among engineering students to fix their own problems, to avoid admitting imperfection, and fear of being seen by others when seeking help for a mental health concern. These results were used to create an engineering mental health help-seeking instrument containing items related to perceived outcomes/attributes, experiential (i.e., affective) beliefs, barriers/facilitators, and perceived norms associated with help seeking. This instrument is currently being refined through cognitive interviews, and pilot data will be collected to examine evidence of instrument reliability and validity. The finalized instrument will be used to identify those beliefs that are predictive of help-seeking intention and behavior. These beliefs are prime targets for future interventions designed to increase mental health help-seeking in the undergraduate engineering student population.more » « less
Mental health concerns have become a growing problem among collegiate engineering students. To date, there has been little research to understand the factors that influence student mental health within this population. Literature on engineering student mental health supports the idea that engineering students experience high levels of mental health distress, which often stems from stressors such as academic workload, maintaining a strong grade point average (GPA), and pressure from parents and/or professors. Of particular concern, distressed engineering students are less likely to seek professional help when compared to students in other majors. As a result, a comprehensive study was conducted on engineering mental health help-seeking behavior. Through secondary analysis of the data from that study, this work aims to identify common perceived stressors that may contribute to mental health distress, as well as perceived coping strategies that may be used instead of seeking professional mental health help. A diverse group of 33 engineering undergraduate students were a part of the comprehensive study on engineering mental health help-seeking behavior. For this study, qualitative data was analyzed to address two specific research questions: 1) What are the main sources of stress that engineers have experienced in their engineering training? and 2) What coping strategies have students developed as an alternative to seeking professional help? Several common perceived stressors were identified including an unsupportive and challenging engineering training environment, challenges in time management, and academic performance expectations. Perceived coping strategies identified include relationships with family, friends, and classmates and health and wellness activities such as exercise, mindfulness, and maintaining spiritual health. The results of this work will be helpful in recognizing ways to improve engineering education and increase student support.more » « less
Engineering students encounter high levels of stress, which may negatively impact their mental health. Nevertheless, engineering students who experience mental health distress are less likely than their peers to seek professional help, even when controlling for gender and race/ethnicity.
We examined beliefs that undergraduate engineering students have about barriers and facilitators to seeking professional help for their mental health. We also sought to identify cultural and systemic factors within and beyond engineering that might affect help‐seeking. Together, these beliefs influence students' sense of personal agency around seeking mental health care.
We implemented a pragmatic qualitative design that incorporated the integrated behavioral model to investigate engineering students' (
N= 33) professional mental health help‐seeking beliefs. We used thematic analysis to analyze help‐seeking beliefs and perceived barriers and facilitators that students described during interviews. Results
We identified four themes: Navigating the system impacts personal agency; sacrifices associated with help‐seeking act as a barrier; engineering culture acts as a barrier to help‐seeking; and student confidence in help‐seeking varies significantly. These themes portray the effect of perceived barriers and facilitators on students' personal agency for accessing mental health care. Our findings have implications for engineering departments and university counseling centers that want to minimize barriers to help‐seeking.
Engineering stakeholders must improve access to professional help for engineering students. Implementing changes to normalize help‐seeking behaviors, enhance personal agency, and facilitate engagement with mental health resources will create better conditions for engineers. Further research is necessary to understand how other beliefs (e.g., attitudes, perceived norms) inform the relationships between student mental health, professional help seeking, and engineering culture.
Studies have shown that distressed engineering undergraduates are less likely to seek help for a mental health concern when compared to their non-engineering peers. To understand more about the factors that influence mental health related help seeking in undergraduate engineering students, a qualitative study was conducted based on the integrated behavioral model (IBM). Through this study, 33 students were asked about their beliefs related to seeking help for a mental health concern, as guided by the IBM. The current study aims to characterize the messages that students receive (either explicitly or implicitly) from engineering faculty and staff that might influence their thoughts around help seeking. After qualitative analysis, three common themes were identified: 1) Supportive explicit and implicit messages around help seeking are often tied to an individual faculty or staff member, 2) College level change around mental health is viewed positively if appropriately communicated, and 3) Students perceive lack of flexibility and empathy from faculty as not being supportive of student mental health. The results of the study provide guidance for how engineering faculty and staff can use explicit and implicit messaging to create an environment that is supportive of mental health and professional help seeking.more » « less
Stress is commonly experienced by college students, especially engineering students. However, the role of stress within engineering culture and its implications for engineering programs have not been fully explored in the literature.
The purpose of this study was to measure and examine the relationships among self‐reported stress, anxiety, and depression; engineering identity; and perceptions of inclusion of undergraduate engineering students.
We validated a quantitative survey instrument built on previously published scales and used it to measure self‐reported stress, anxiety, and depression; engineering identity; and perceptions of inclusion.
Our findings indicate that self‐reported levels of stress, anxiety, and depression are high for engineering students. Further, levels of stress and anxiety are significantly higher for female students, while levels of depression are higher for first‐generation students. We find correlations between self‐reported mental health symptoms, engineering identity, and perceptions of inclusion, and these relationships differ by gender. Lastly, we find that students underrepresented in engineering rate their departments as less diverse than their peers.
Our results suggest that perceptions of inclusion and engineering identity are related to student mental health, further emphasizing the importance of developing inclusive cultures in engineering programs. The findings suggest that mental health needs greater attention in engineering education, particularly for female and first‐generation students.