Identity Development, Stigma, and Academic Resilience in College Students with Mental Illness




VanderLind, Ren

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Increasing numbers of college students are reporting mental health concerns (American Collegiate Health Association, 2014; Novotney, 2014), and research demonstrates insufficient supports are available on campus (Reetz, Barr, & Krylowicz, 2013). It has also been established that college students with mental illness are less likely to persist from semester to semester, through a course, and through to graduation, as well as have lower GPAs than their neurotypical peers (Breslau, Lane, Sampson, & Kessler, 2008; Cranford, Eisenberg, & Serras, 2009; Elion, Wang, Slaney, & French, 2012; Keyes, Eisenberg, Perry, Dube, Kroenke, & Dhingra, 2012; Thompson, Connely, Thomas-Jones, & Eggert, 2013). In this dissertation, I argue that college students with mental illness are a part of the developmental education community in that the two populations have similar needs: both populations are likely to encounter stigma (Higbee, 2009; Martin, 2010; Megivern, Pellirito, & Mowbray, 2001; Maxwell, as cited by Piper, 1988; Quinn, Wilson, MacIntyre, & Tinklin, 2009; Tucker et al, 2013; Weiner, 1999; Weiner & Wiener, 1996) and are less likely to persist to graduation than their peers (Boylan & Bonham, 2007; Breslau et al., 2008; Cranford et al., 2009; Elion et al., 2012; Fowler & Boylan, 2010; Keyes et al., 2012; Thompson et al., 2013). This dissertation comprises three studies: a survey with metaphorical data, a duoethnography, and an autoethnography. Three studies were used for a telescoping approach, examining the driving research questions from the broadest level (the university-wide survey) down to the most narrow (the autoethnography) to give breadth and depth to the dataset and our understanding of the experiences of identity development, stigma, and academic resilience in college students with mental illness. Findings from the first study indicate that college students with mental illness have predominantly troubling or negative senses of identity both as individuals and as college students with mental illness, they encounter both perceived and self-stigmatization, and the majority perceive themselves as academically resilient. Findings from the second study, a duoethnography, may indicate that identity development may be tied to factors such as support systems and perceived stigma from others, including faculty, peers, and family members; perceived and self-stigma are encountered by individuals with bipolar disorder; and academic resilience is often demonstrated even if not perceived as such by the student. Findings from the third study may indicate identity development is a recursive process spurred by identity crises, that stigma is present from the self when one is a maladaptive perfectionist, and that academic resilience, again, although demonstrated, is not always perceived as such. To address these issues, educators and student support staff should be aware of the nature of mental illness to help reduce stigma and increase the positive sense of identity perceived by students with mental illness.



Mental health, Mental illness, College students, Identity development, Stigma, Resillience, Autoethnography, Duoethnography, Metaphor analysis


VanderLind, R. (2018). <i>Identity development, stigma, and academic resilience in college students with mental illness</i> (Unpublished dissertation). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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