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February 11, 2016

Student Success Center


420 Redondo East Building 2, Albuquerque, NM, 87106
505-277-2404
collectiveimpact@unm.edu

Dear Student Success Center,


I am writing this report to identify why many students with a mental illness drop out. There is a
high dropout rate among students who have a mental illness. My purpose is to understand what
factors related to mental illness lead to a students decision to drop out. I believe that the Student
Success Center can best help me identify reasons why a student with a mental illness would drop
out.
I am an employee of the Student Success Center and I would like to present a report. As a
psychology major at the University of New Mexico, I possess a unique interest in abnormal
psychology. Moreover, I am an advocate for helping those with a mental illness succeed in daily
life. It is concerning that the dropout rate for a student with mental illness is so high. For this
report, I will conduct two interviews that will allow my participants to answer anonymously on
why balancing college and mental illness is difficult. My questionnaire will consist of 10
questions and will cover a variety of topics related to mental health including self-advocacy,
treatment, and knowledge of school resources. My results will display the answers to my
interview questions.
I look forward to discussing my findings in greater detail with you. Thank you for taking the
time to consider my report.
Sincerely,
Carissa Arellano
420 Redondo East Building 2
Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87106
carissano@unm.edu

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Carissa Arellano
Professor Potter
ENG 219-027

How Can A Student with A Mental Illness Succeed at a University?


A Report on the Resources a Student with a Psychiatric Disability Can Utilize to Graduate
Introduction
Mental illness is generally defined as a condition that impacts an individuals cognition and
mood and affects the individuals ability to function in daily life. The disease of the mind is no
different than to the disease of the body. Yet, there is an undeniable stigma that surrounds those
who suffer from mental illness. That stigma intensifies for those who want a career or are
working towards one. College age is approximately the time mental illnesses present themselves,
often striking their victims with such magnitude that their education suffers. Mental illness is an
uncomfortable topic because it is not widely understood. Individuals who fall victim to their own
mind do not speak up about their illness, nor do they understand it themselves.
More than half of college dropouts cite mental health reasons, therefore, it is
important to understand the underlying causes. There will always be an obstruction on

the path to success for students with psychiatric illnesses. Stigma is the main obstacle, which
greatly constricts a students motivation for self-advocacy. Access to therapy and medication are
also arduous to obtain, particularly in rural areas. Lastly, accommodations provided by the
university can be limiting and selective.
Methods
The participants I interviewed are close friends of mine. Both participants go to the University of
New Mexico. However, I chose to interview one friend that has not been diagnosed as mentally
ill and one friend that has been diagnosed to distinguish the experience they have had at UNM. It
would make quite a difference to understand resources meant for students with psychiatric
disturbances. The non-mentally ill participant served as my control group, while the mentally ill
participant served as my experimental group. My purpose for establishing which group the
participant belonged to was to understand if mentally ill students knew of services provided for
them at a university.
To gain a better understanding of the implications of being a student with a mental illness, I
conducted my secondary research with the notion of viewing two sidesthe professionals, and
the students. Three of my peer-reviewed resources acknowledge what can be done for students
with mental health issues. One of my peer-reviewed resources acknowledges what it means to be
a student with a mental health concern. The resources I used that were not peer-reviewed simply
provide information of the resources that UNM offers.
Limitations

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Carissa Arellano
Professor Potter
ENG 219-027

My questions could have been more specific; my questions could have been less of yes or no
type questions. Moreover, my questions could have been formulated better. I figured that
conducting an interview would be more intimate and allow me to gather information of a
sensitive nature. The people I chose for the interview were not random, therefore, making my
study biased. I knew both respondents, so there is some bias inherent to my data. However, I still
regard my data as valid because my knowing them allowed them to feel comfortable. I knew
ahead of time who I was going to pick to interview. One limitation was finding a mentally ill
student to participate. Of course, the participant was told they would remain anonymous.
However, because of mental health stigma, these questions could not have been answered with
true honesty. Mental health is a very sensitive subject and to get authentic questions is out of my
control.
Results
According to Kattsiyannis, after entering postsecondary education, students with disabilities
have a lower rate of remaining in college and graduating with a degree. There are several reasons
why students with a mental health disability do not graduate college. Among the many reasons,
New Mexico in particular faces a greater ethical dilemma in treating psychiatric patients as
opposed to a metropolitan area such as New York. New Mexico is a rural area and
inconsistencies in responding to ethical problems by caregivers from different disciplines may
trigger new dilemmas (Roberts, Battaglia and Epstein). When a student with a psychiatric
illness does not have the proper tools to cope with their illness, they do not have the proper tools
to graduate. Regardless, negative stigma of mental illness still lingers and renders students
without sufficient self-advocacy skills. Moreover, [students lack] knowledge of the postsecondary disability services that are available (Kattsiyannis, Zhang and Landmark). Disability
support services are offered at most (if not all) colleges, and the services are vital to the mentally
ill students success in postsecondary education. Even if a student has access to medication and
therapy, there are still social obstacles that prevent them from utilizing resources that will help
them graduate.
Social obstacles indirectly cause a student to have a lower success rate in postsecondary
education. Most students with a psychiatric disorder report deep feelings of shame (in regards to
their illness) and concerns about breaches in confidentiality. Moreover, it has been noted that
faculty are not always willing to provide accommodations to students with psychiatric
disabilities despite documentation from the disability support services. According to
Kattsiyannis, some faculty members do not provide accommodations mainly due to a lack of
understanding of the implications of a psychiatric disability. Some faculty members insist that
accommodations are unnecessary for students with something simple such as depression.
However, if the student has provided documentation and has establishment with the disability
support services, this student has proven that they meet the requirements of having a disability.
In order to meet the requirements of having a disability, an individual must demonstrate that their
psychiatric illness substantially limits a major life activity. Meeting requirements has become a
rigorous task for students because qualification is selective and problematic. Once a student has
establishment with the disability support services, reasonable accommodations must also be
considered, which can be difficult to accurately assess. Student deficiencies, poor instruction,

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Carissa Arellano
Professor Potter
ENG 219-027

and disability-unfriendly campus climate all contribute to the retention and graduation rate
disparities students with disabilities experience (Kattsiyannis, Zhang and Landmark).

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Carissa Arellano
Professor Potter
ENG 219-027

Below is a chart of the questionnaire I conducted via interview.


Questions

Non Mentally Ill Student


Response
No.

Mentally Ill Student


Response
No.

No.

I occasionally see a therapist.

I dont have one.

I have difficulty
concentrating because I am
not receiving treatment.

Yes. But havent we all?

I consider it consistently. I am
not sure of how much more I
can manage.
I dont want anyone to know
about what Im suffering
with. Id rather complete my
studies alone.
Yes.

Are you currently receiving


psychiatric treatment for your
condition?
Are you currently receiving
psychotherapy to aid you in
daily life?
How has your mental illness
impacted your success at
UNM?
Have you considered
dropping out of college?
Nothing, I focus on balancing
What stops you from utilizing school and work. I use
the resources at UNM?
relevant resources when I
need to.
Did you know that you can
Yes.
call a crisis helpline called
Agora? Its free of charge as
well.
What do you know about
I know that its basically like
Student Health and
a small clinic for UNM
Counseling (SHAC)?
students.
Did you know that there is
Yes.
departmental assistance for
students with disabilities?
Have you established your
I do not have a disability.
disability with the
Accessibility Resource
Center?
Have you had any
No because I do not have a
complications with your
disability.
professors willingness to
accommodate your disability?

You can fill prescriptions and


receive counseling. I think
you can also get flu shots.
Yes.

No. Im too ashamed.

There was a time I was


hospitalized and I had not
previously established with
my professors that I had a
disability. However, most of
my professors were willing to

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Professor Potter
ENG 219-027

work with me for the time I


missed in the hospital.

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Carissa Arellano
Professor Potter
ENG 219-027

As one can see from the image, 64 percent of drop outs cited mental health reasons. Half of the
mentally ill students who disclosed information in this survey did not disclose their illness to
their college and more than half of those students did not request accommodations. Perhaps these

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Carissa Arellano
Professor Potter
ENG 219-027

students did not disclose their illness in fear of consequential bias.

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Carissa Arellano
Professor Potter
ENG 219-027

Discussion
My results inform my overall research question by showing that college students with a mental
illness are not receiving the help they need because they are afraid of disclosing their illness.
Therefore, there is a lower graduation rate for people of this group. My secondary research
provided several explanations that were validated by my interviews. It appears that students
with a mental illness do not have high chances of graduating mostly because of social stigma. If
the student knew it was okay to self-advocate, many of the social obstacles would dissipate. In
order to self-advocate, the student must acknowledge their need for therapy and/or medication.
Next, the student must establish their disability with the disability resource center. Moreover,
deep feelings of shame may prevent the student from establishing their psychiatric disability
with the professor. On occasion, professors have been known to not work with their student
despite their disability. When a student faces several obstructions, graduation may feel near
impossible. It is important to advocate these resources so students with a mental illness can
raise their likelihood of graduating.
Recommendations
I recommend that more seminars or presentations should be held to encourage students to
speak up about their psychiatric disability. Within this presentation, resources should be
presented so the student knows their options. What must be understood is that self-advocacy is
key. In order to achieve self-advocacy, the student cannot feel shame. Once self-advocacy is
achieved, the student can feel the freedom needed to utilize university resources. Based on
responses from my participant, the student would be more likely to use their resources if they
knew there would be no shame involved, and if they knew how to access the resources.
Therefore, students should be taught how to self-advocate their illness so they can help
themselves proceed towards their goal of graduation.

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Carissa Arellano
Professor Potter
ENG 219-027

Works Cited
Goodrich, Kristopher and Richard Shin. "A Culturally Responsive Intervention for Addressing
Problematic Behaviors in Counseling Students." Wiley Online Library (2013): 43-55.
Kattsiyannis, Antonis, et al. "Postsecondary Education for Individuals with Disabilities ." Sage
Journals (2009): 35-45.
Lee, Steffi. Trends Among College Students with Mental Illness. 2012. Iowa Watch. Web. Date
accessed February 23, 2016.
Roberts, Laura Weiss, John Battaglia and Richard Epstein. "Frontier Ethics: Mental Health Care
Needs and Ethical Dilemmas in Rural Communities ." Psychiatry Online (1999): 497503.
UNM. Accessibility Resource Center. n.d. Electronic Source. 9 March 2016.
Wallerstein, Nina and Bonnie Duran . "Using Community Based Participatory Research To
Adddress Health Disparities ." Sage Journals (2006): 1-12.

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Carissa Arellano
Professor Potter
ENG 219-027

Appendix
My Questionnaire:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.

Are you currently receiving psychiatric treatment for your condition?


Are you currently receiving psychotherapy to aid you in daily life?
How has your mental illness impacted your success at UNM?
Have you considered dropping out of college?
What stops you from utilizing the resources at UNM?
Did you know that you can call a crisis helpline called Agora? Its free of charge as well.
What do you know about Student Health and Counseling (SHAC)?
Did you know that there is departmental assistance for students with disabilities?
Have you established your disability with the Accessibility Resource Center?
10. Have you had any complications with your professors willingness to accommodate your
disability?