Abstract: Assessing and Addressing the Mental Health of MSW Students (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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39P Assessing and Addressing the Mental Health of MSW Students

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Lynette Renner, Ph.D., Professor, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Saint PAUL, MN
Laura Soltani, MSW, LICSW, Doctoral Student, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Saint PAUL, MN
Patricia Shannon, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Saint Paul, MN
William Carlson, MSW, LICSW, Doctoral Student, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Saint PAUL, MN
Background and Purpose: Graduate students are six times more likely to experience depression and anxiety compared to the general population (Evans et al., 2018). Unlike students in business, engineering, and education programs, social work students report greater diagnoses of depression, anxiety, and comorbid substance use and mental health problems (Allen et al., 2022). The research devoted to understanding the mental health of social work students remains limited, despite the fact that student well-being has direct implications on their academic and professional success. To contribute to this line of research, we surveyed MSW students about their perceptions of health, sources of stress and anxiety, and recommendations for program changes to support student mental health.

Methods: A collaborative working group was formed between students, faculty, and the student health center at a mid-western university as part of a larger effort to improve student mental health. A Qualtrics survey was distributed to 249 currently enrolled MSW students. Perceptions of student health, mental health, health-related behavior, contextual sources of stress and anxiety, and quality of relationships were assessed using standardized scales and project-specific items. Three open-ended questions were used to assess how the climate of the program contributed to positive or negative mental health and suggestions for improving the well-being of students. Out of 249 MSW students, 130 (52.2%) responded to the survey. A subset of approximately 70 respondents provided responses to the open-ended questions. Respondents predominantly identified as: female (79.2%), White (80.9%), heterosexual (60.3%), and between 22 and 29 years old (68.7%). Just over 10% of the sample had dependent children and 22.1% were first-generation college student. Descriptive statistics provide information on study measures. Students’ verbatim, short responses were analyzed through a conventional approach to thematic analysis.

Results: Over 63% of the students reported they were in good to excellent health but poor physical or mental health kept students from doing usual activities for 5.98 (SD=6.26) days out of the last month. Moderate to severe depressive symptoms were reported by 23.8% of students and 79.2% reported higher than average perceived stress. Highest sources of stress included managing class work, finances, academic work hours and mental health concerns. Approximately 18% of students reported suicidal ideation in the past 30 days and 28% reported at least one episode of binge-drinking in the past two weeks. Students reported that their mental health was positively impacted by mental health promotion, social support from peers and faculty, and diversity of students, faculty, and staff. Negative impacts to student mental health included equity issues and communication issues, negative school climate, and teaching and curriculum issues. Recommendations to improve student well-being focused on program administration, school climate, curriculum and teaching methods, and resources to support student mental health.

Conclusions and Implications: Our study represents a unique collaboration among students, faculty, and university administrators to examine mental health and propose action steps in the context of student-identified stressors. Our process and findings are relevant to other social work programs seeking to improve student mental health.