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Home U Rising Focus on student mental health, Ep. 1: A primer


Focus on Student Mental Health is a five-part series. In episode 1, we start with the basics: What is good mental health and why is it crucial to your success as a college student? Christina Kelly LeCluyse, a clinical social worker with the University Counseling Center, talks about the challenges of anxiety, depression and relationships faced by many students. This overview sets the stage for more detailed discussions about mental wellness. The series is hosted and produced by Scot Singpiel of at University of Utah Health and was created in collaboration with Student Affairs and the University Counseling Center at the University of Utah.

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Chris Nelson: This is Chris Nelson, co-host of the U Rising Podcast. For the next few episodes, we are sharing a five-episode series about student mental health produced by at University of Utah Health.

It will examine the top mental health challenges faced by college students and explore what causes them and suggest basic strategy to manage each one.

You'll also learn about the resources available at the University of Utah. Because in the end, it's not just about understanding the issues, it's about empowering you, our students, with the tools to thrive.

So, as we dive into this series, I invite you to join us in our shared journey toward a healthier future.


Scot Singpiel: College is hard. And like anything that's hard or new or challenging, it can take its toll on a person's emotional and mental health. It might be we were never given the tools to properly manage and care for our mental health. Maybe the tools worked for us fine before college, but they're no longer adequate for the new challenges this chapter of life presents, or the emotional or mental issue you find yourself dealing with might be something new you've never had to cope with before.

In this podcast series, you'll develop a better understanding of mental health challenges faced by many college students, including anxiety, depression and maintaining healthy relationships. You'll learn about some of the first steps you can take. And we're not talking about the same old quick tips, although each episode will have some actionable things you can do. We're going to go deeper. We're going to talk to the experts in each area about research-backed practices that'll help you take control of your mental health.

And in the last episode, we'll talk about all the resources available at University of Utah if you decide to take the next steps. And that might not necessarily be a one-on-one therapy session, so we'll talk about other options that might be even more useful.

I'm Scot Singpiel with from University of Utah Health, and joining me is clinical social worker Christina Kelly LeCluyse from the University of Utah Counseling Center. And as we kick off this series of podcasts, Christina, what is it that you hope students will take away from our conversations?

Christina Kelly LeCluyse: Yes, I'm hoping that this podcast can be of assistance to students in learning more about mental health, being able to approach their mental health with a little bit more understanding and with that understanding that there can be a promotion of more self-compassion and kindness, as well as being able to know that they're not alone in their struggles with mental health and that there are resources and services to help them address those concerns. They don't have to walk this path by themselves.

Scot Singpiel: For me, understanding how something works really goes a long way for me to be able to maybe sometimes accept it. Like if I understand why I'm experiencing anxiety . . .

Christina Kelly LeCluyse: Yes.

Scot Singpiel: . . . that can really help me, you know, cope with it a little bit better.

Christina Kelly LeCluyse: Agreed.

Scot Singpiel: Am I unique in that . . .

Christina Kelly LeCluyse: No.

Scot Singpiel: . . . or is that something we should talk about more deeply?

Christina Kelly LeCluyse: Absolutely. In fact, I often tell my clients that I think knowledge is power. And when you can start to understand yourself and understand your experiences more, it not only, that in and of itself, I think helps reduce the stress. But then it also serves as a map to help guide you to what next steps can be done. How can we then resolve this issue? What skills might we need to develop? What tools do we need to have to be able to address it? But absolutely, I think that understanding is one of the very first steps to take.

   Christina Kelly LeCluyse of the University Counseling Center.

Scot Singpiel: And teaching these skills is important because I think maybe some of us, I think for a long time I assumed that this is just something you should be able to do. Like I should be able to handle the stress. I should be able to handle depression. Like this is just something that I . . . These are skills I was born with. But that's not true at all.

Christina Kelly LeCluyse: That's not true at all. And it's a really important point that you make there, Scot, because I think one of the barriers to students seeking services today is that precise idea of an assumption of they should be able to handle all the stresses and challenges involved in being a college student. And the reality is, for the majority of them, this is the first time that they are a college student, you know? Or if they have been a college student for a few years, there's always stressors involved. And through a variety of life circumstances, we always can learn more skills. We might need more tools for managing those particular stressors.

And it isn't an indication of being less intelligent or being less capable. It's just oftentimes not knowing. And so our mental health is very much like our physical health in that we have to take care of it, and we often have to learn new ways to do that. And that's a very important part of what we do here at our counseling center.

Scot Singpiel: All right. Well, let's start here. What is mental health? Because you hear that term thrown around a lot, right? I mean, we hear things like stress and depression and anxiety, and we know those are components of our mental health. But as a whole, what is mental health?

Now, I've heard it referred to this way, and tell me if you think this is helpful, that being mentally healthy means that your thoughts and feelings are conducive to accomplishing the things that you want to accomplish in the world, you know, to do the things that you do. What do you think of that?

Christina Kelly LeCluyse: I love that. Yes, absolutely. Mental health, I would suggest, is an integral part of our human health. So being able to address and tend to your mental health is as critical as being able to tend to your physical health, your social life, your spiritual life, your academic life. It's an integral part of being human, and it really does impact all aspects of our other human experiences.

So, for example, oftentimes in outreach, but certainly in individual sessions as well, when we talk to students about how if you're not well in your mental health realm, it's going to negatively impact your ability to be successful as a student. And the converse is true as well. If you're doing well mental-health-wise, it often shows up in other areas and it's a positive effect. So being able to engage well with your studies, being able to engage well with your social support system, being able to attend to your physical health, they're all interconnected.

Good mental health is also related to living a life where you're living by your set of values and things that are important to you so that your behavior is following through with the values and goals and aspirations that you have. When there's congruity between those, mental health tends to do quite well. Contrary is also true. So, if you're acting in ways that are not congruent with your values, your goals, your belief systems, then we tend to see a rise in more challenging emotions, such as anxiety, depression, and stress.

Scot Singpiel: Right. And in the college student situation, something that I experienced, when I was a student, was I perceived myself as good at school. I was good in, you know, high school. And then I show up in college, and now all of a sudden, like, it's a little bit more challenging. It's a little bit more of a different deal, right?

Christina Kelly LeCluyse: True. That's right. Yes.

Scot Singpiel: So now I've got this conflict of this self-image, probably more of a self-image thing . . .

Christina Kelly LeCluyse: Yes.

Scot Singpiel: . . . than a value thing, right, but maybe you could tell us how values would play into it, give us a value example. But now my self-image is in conflict with what I'm experiencing in my reality, and then that causes me stress. I'm like, [sighs], you know, and that's not fun. You know?

Christina Kelly LeCluyse: That's right. That's challenging and stressful. That's right. And I think oftentimes, too, what we see with a lot of students is a cause for a source of stress, anxiety and depression, and increased negative self-esteem is when students engage into a pattern of negative comparison of themselves to other people.

So then, not only are they dealing with all these challenges, but looking around them, and I would suggest falsely comparing the well-being of others to their own, as in thinking, "Well, everybody else seems to have it together. Why don't I?" or "Everybody else seems to manage this just fine. How come I am not?"

And the reason why I say that's a false comparison is just because how other students present in class or how they are perceived as they're walking around campus is not the entirety of their being. So, the majority of students at one point or another are going to be struggling with these things. They just might not show it to the rest of the world. But we hear about it in our counseling sessions. This is how we know.

Scot Singpiel: Yeah, right?

Christina Kelly LeCluyse: Yeah.

Scot Singpiel: How does a person's identity impact how they experience the college experience from the perspective of mental health, you know, things like race, class, culture, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability?

Christina Kelly LeCluyse: Basically, all of the different forms of oppression are things that our students who come from minority communities can and have experienced here on campus. So that creates not only, of course, incredible amounts of stress, but it can be demoralizing, it can be traumatizing. It can increase high levels and produce high levels of anxiety and depression, a sense of questioning whether it's possible to succeed here. It just runs a wide gamut of negative effects.

Scot Singpiel: So as if the college experience isn't challenging enough for intellectual purposes, the fact, you know, you're challenging yourself intellectually, just it could be challenging in so many different ways depending on who you are.

Christina Kelly LeCluyse: That's right.

Scot Singpiel: Really, I think that kind of is understated. I don't think that it gets the credit that it deserves. At college, the academic part is hard. The rest of it is also hard. Like college is hard. It's not an easy thing to do.

Christina Kelly Lecluyse: Yeah. And the reality is there's the academic challenge and then there's the social-cultural challenges that we're talking about here as well. So, it's multi-layered, really. There's a lot of intersectionality that impacts and affects students' mental health in these areas.

Scot Singpiel: In the rest of this podcast series, we're going to get into some specific issues that face college students, such as anxiety, depression, healthy relationships. Those have all been identified not only nationally, but also locally here at University of Utah as some of the biggest mental health challenges that students face. We'll break out those topics very specifically in those episodes. But in this introduction episode, do those things, in general, have anything in common or any similarities that we could kind of talk about right now?

Christina Kelly LeCluyse: Well, I think a lot of it comes back to a lot of those issues that we identified earlier in regards to concerns about identity, expectations about themselves, expectations and pressures that they receive from their own communities.

For example, we have a lot of students who are first-generation students. Well, there's a lot of pressure that our first-gen students face not only from themselves but can oftentimes come from their family of origin and their communities who are looking to them as models and examples of how to move ahead. And there's a lot there that they have to deal with as well then.

Scot Singpiel: So, are you excited to talk about, in more detail, these upcoming topics? We're going to talk about anxiety, depression and healthy relationships, and then we'll wrap up the series with some other options beyond therapy, some of the resources available here at University of Utah and things that you can do on your own or, you know, a lot of times we think, "Oh, therapy" that's the first thing, but there's a lot of other things other than therapy.

Christina Kelly LeCluyse: Absolutely. There certainly are. There certainly are. No, I'm very excited. I'm really looking forward to this as I hope that it can be a really useful tool for students who understand themselves more and understand what some of their experiences might be and from there to feel empowered to take ownership of their mental health so we can create a mentally well campus.

Scot Singpiel: I hope you'll join me over the next few episodes as I explore more deeply with experts some of the common mental health issues that face students—anxiety, depression and developing healthy relationships. We'll talk to some experts and find out more about each of these conditions.

If you have a specific issue you're dealing with right now, feel free to skip ahead to that episode, although we hope you'll listen and learn from them all. You can also visit the University Counseling Center's website at for an overview of the free support options they provide or to schedule a virtual intake appointment.

Also, don’t hesitate to seek crisis services if you have an immediate concern about anyone, whether that’s yourself, a family member, a friend, a classmate, even a stranger. You can find available crisis services at

And finally, if you know somebody that would benefit from these podcasts, please share them with them. And thank you for listening.