skip to main content


Title: “It's very important to my professors…at least most of them”: How messages from engineering faculty and staff influence student beliefs around seeking help for their mental health.
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
Award ID(s):
2024394
NSF-PAR ID:
10434300
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
American Society for Engineering Education
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. 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
  2. Abstract Background

    Mental health for engineering undergraduates is an urgent topic for engineering educators. Narratives of engineering education requiring suffering may create or exacerbate problematic perceptions around stress and mental health in engineering. This study explored the roles of stress and mental health in engineering culture. We sought to explore: (1) how engineering students describe their experiences related to stress and mental health and (2) norms and expectations engineering students share about stress and mental health. Qualitative interview data were collected from 30 students who had previously responded to a college-wide survey.

    Results

    Codes related to experiences with stress and mental health in engineering were organized in a bioecological systems model and analyzed for emergent themes depicting engineering culture. The study identified three themes related to stress and mental health in engineering culture: (1) engineering workload as a defining stressor, (2) specific barriers that prevent engineering students from seeking help for mental health concerns, and (3) reliance on peers to cope with stress and mental health distress.

    Conclusions

    Our analysis provided insight into how engineering students perceive norms around stress and mental health in engineering and how this impacts help-seeking for mental health challenges. These findings have important implications for developing interventions and positive cultures that support student mental health.

     
    more » « less
  3. 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
  4. Distressed engineering students are significantly less likely to seek professional help for a mental health concern when compared to their non-engineering peers. This represents a treatment gap, making engineering students at risk for escalation of symptoms to more significant and potentially chronic mental illness. To better understand the causes of this treatment gap, this study was designed to look at first-year engineering students’ perceptions of seeking help for a mental health concern. Self-report survey data was collected from 440 first-year engineering students during the first month of the Fall 2021 semester, including psychometrically sound measures of mental health help-seeking attitudes, perceived norms, personal agency, and intention developed in accordance with the Integrated Behavioral Model. Results show 12% of students self-report symptoms of moderate or higher depression and 14% moderate or higher anxiety. While these statistics are lower than the national averages for college students, breakdowns by gender showed that female students showed a higher prevalence of anxiety and depression compared to the corresponding national average. In general, students had positive attitudes, control, and self-efficacy related to seeking help for a mental health concern. Mean scores for help-seeking intention and perceived norms were lower, with 50% of distressed students indicating low intention to seek professional help if in distress. Results from this study provide insight into the key mental health help-seeking perceptions that could influence help-seeking intention in first-year engineering students. This could aid in identifying targets for interventions aimed at improving help-seeking within this student population. 
    more » « less
  5. Abstract Background

    Depression is one of the top mental health concerns among biology graduate students and has contributed to the “graduate student mental health crisis” declared in 2018. Several prominent science outlets have called for interventions to improve graduate student mental health, yet it is unclear to what extent graduate students with depression discuss their mental health with others in their Ph.D. programs. While sharing one’s depression may be an integral step to seeking mental health support during graduate school, depression is considered to be a concealable stigmatized identity (CSI) and revealing one’s depression could result in loss of status or discrimination. As such, face negotiation theory, which describes a set of communicative behaviors that individuals use to regulate their social dignity, may help identify what factors influence graduate students’ decisions about whether to reveal their depression in graduate school. In this study, we interviewed 50 Ph.D. students with depression enrolled across 28 life sciences graduate programs across the United States. We examined (1) to what extent graduate students revealed their depression to faculty advisors, graduate students, and undergraduates in their research lab, (2) the reasons why they revealed or concealed their depression, and (3) the consequences and benefits they perceive are associated with revealing depression. We used a hybrid approach of deductive and inductive coding to analyze our data.

    Results

    More than half (58%) of Ph.D. students revealed their depression to at least one faculty advisor, while 74% revealed to at least one graduate student. However, only 37% of graduate students revealed their depression to at least one undergraduate researcher. Graduate students’ decisions to reveal their depression to their peers were driven by positive mutual relationships, while their decisions to reveal to faculty were often based on maintaining dignity by performing preventative or corrective facework. Conversely, graduates performed supportive facework when interacting with undergraduate researchers by revealing their depression as a way to destigmatize struggling with mental health.

    Conclusions

    Life sciences graduate students most commonly revealed their depression to other graduate students, and over half reported discussing depression with their faculty advisor. However, graduate students were reluctant to share their depression with undergraduate researchers. Power dynamics between graduate students and their advisors, their peers, and their undergraduate mentees influenced the reasons they chose to reveal or conceal their depression in each situation. This study provides insights into how to create more inclusive life science graduate programs where students can feel more comfortable discussing their mental health.

     
    more » « less