Helping Hands – Spring 2024 Scholarship Winner

Regan Burdick is the first-place winner of our Spring 2024 scholarship essay contest. Regan is 18 years old and attends the University of Texas at Austin. Regan’s essay, “Helping Hands” seeks to help alleviate the rates of mental health disorders among college students by creating a mentor/mentee program.

It was two in the morning and, even though I had a lecture promptly at eight, I was wide awake in my dorm room bed. With two chapters of The Iliad needing reading, a German assignment due the next day, and the impending fear of how I would pay for next year’s tuition and housing, overwhelming stress kept me awake. This is a common experience for many college students. The pressures of academics, finances, and a completely new environment are difficult to deal with, and with little guidance, mental health is bound to suffer. I attend the University of Texas at Austin, and I believe that through a system of mentorship and guidance, we can further aid our students and promote mental health.

In an article published by the American Psychological Association titled “Student mental health is in crisis. Campuses are rethinking their approach”, it is stated, “During the 2020–2021 school year, more than 60% of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem…” (Abrams). These levels of poor mental health are no surprise considering the slew of factors and challenges college students face. In “Risk factors associated with stress, anxiety, and depression among university undergraduate students” by Mohammad Mofatteh, the author synthesized a variety of academic articles to divulge six key risk factor themes associated with college students and stress: psychological, academic, biological, lifestyle, social, and financial. First off are the psychological factors including low self-esteem and/or low confidence, underlying mental health conditions, neuroticism and/or introversion, and loneliness. Those who deal with these factors are more susceptible to anxiety and depression. For instance, because many students move away from home for college, they are stripped of their familial and friendship relationships and left alone with no support system. Without a support system, students feel as though they are alone with no guidance, a sense heavily correlated with depression. Along with this, academic factors such as heavy courseloads and the need for internships, research experience, and practice lead to overwhelming stress for many, especially those in medical majors (Mofatteh). They spend late nights completing assignments and studying for finals, contributing to poor self-care habits and ultimately leading to increased cortisol levels, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Students link their self-worth to their academic performance, so when they receive poor marks this can negatively affect their view of themselves. Along with this, Mofatteh also brings up certain biological factors like physical health, gender, and age which can each have a major impact on mental health. For example, Mofatteh states “Students with physical and mental disabilities can be in a more disadvantaged position and do not fully participate in university life leading to SAD (stress, anxiety, and depression) formation [33]” (Mofatteh). Here he is explaining how certain conditions affect one’s ability to fully integrate with and experience college life which can, once again, lead to depression. This is linked with the social factors brought up in the article later on. Mofatteh explains how “… lack of support from family and university, adverse relationships with family, lack of engagement in social activities, sexual victimization, excessive social media usage, belonging to ethnic and religious minority groups, and stigma associated with the mental health are among risk factors for SAD in university students” (Mofatteh). Those who lack supportive and positive social surroundings are bound to feel isolated or targeted which can lead to poor mental health. Lastly, the author covers lifestyle and financial factors such as the amount of sleep one is receiving, economic status, lack of financial support, and substance abuse. Every risk factor explained here is a leading cause of the depreciating mental state of college students. College is a new experience for many that isolates them from their life before and perpetuates social, academic, and financial stress.

However, there is a solution to this problem. If given the chance at my university, I would promote a campaign titled “Helping Hands” which focuses on the guidance of young college students. In my personal experience, the main factor of poor mental health in college students was the uncertainty that came with college. I didn’t know how to properly study, how to cook healthy meals for myself, how to apply for loans, or find the most reasonably priced housing. This uncertainty, coupled with the lack of social support, led to mass amounts of anxiety and loneliness. To solve this problem, my “Helping Hands” campaign would work to pair younger students with older students in a mentor/mentee fashion. Younger students would have a designated person they would meet up with weekly with whom they could ask questions, study with, or even just talk about their week. These mentors, because they are upperclassmen who have already gone through a similar experience, would be able to offer valuable information and advice. This helps resolve certain anxieties while providing a positive avenue for social support. Along with this, my campaign would also provide weekly meetings that center around certain lifestyle topics. I would reach out to speakers and/or staff members who could speak on things like how to manage stress, how to properly study, or how to write a resume. This is yet another avenue where students can gain valuable information and take preventative action against potential stress. Lastly, this campaign would also host “mental health events” twice a month where students are encouraged to step out of their everyday routines to engage in reflection or self-care-based events. One example of this would be a yoga retreat. I would implement this
movement by making “Helping Hands” a club. From then on, students would sign up to be mentors and mentees, and they would be paired together. I would reach out to staff members who would speak for the first half of meetings, and then members would meet up with their mentor or mentee for the second half of meetings. I would have officers to help oversee the activities of the clubs including membership, speakers, and mental health events. Overall, I believe that this program would not only help students cope with the stress and uncertainty of college life but also provide meaningful relationships and a supportive social space.

As many realize, college is a stressful place. The majority of college students face mental
health problems as a result of certain risk factors. These mental problems, however, can be battled through a system of guidance and support that works to alleviate uncertainty and loneliness. College, although unfamiliar and demanding, should not have to be a miserable experience. With this program that puts the mental well-being of students on top, college can be both comfortable and exciting.

Works Cited

Abrams, Zara. “Student mental health is in crisis. Campuses are rethinking their approach.” American Psychological Association, vol.53, no.7, 2022, pg.60, Accessed Dec 15, 2023.
Mofatteh, Mohammad. “Risk factors associated with stress, anxiety, and depression among university undergraduate students.” AIMS public health vol.8, no.1, 2020, pg.36-65, Accessed Dec 15, 2023.

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