Identifying Engineering Students' Beliefs About Seeking Help for Mental Health Concerns

Courtney Janaye Wright, Lucy Elizabeth Hargis, Ellen L. Usher, Joseph Hammer, Sarah Wilson, Melanie E. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


National data show that engineering students with mental health problems are significantly less likely to seek professional help than their peers. While treatment gaps exist for cisgender men, Black, and first-generation students in general, disparities are further pronounced in engineering. Interventions targeted at reshaping engineering identity to support mental health related help-seeking could increase success and retention of at-risk students. To accomplish this, it is important to first understand how the engineering student experience influences student mental health and the beliefs students hold that influence their help-seeking. This qualitative research study aims to characterize stressors in engineering undergraduate students, while also identifying students' beliefs about perceived barriers and facilitators to seeking help for mental health distress. Students from across all engineering majors and years of study were invited to participate in a pre-screening survey that included questions related to prior mental health service utilization and psychological distress. Students were selected for interviews to promote representation across majors, gender identities, class years, and prior help-seeking. The research team conducted semi-structured interviews with seven participants to understand the key beliefs that engineering students hold about seeking help related to mental health. Interview questions were grounded in the Integrated Behavioral Model, which recognizes the importance of the perceived barriers and facilitators associated with mental health related help-seeking. Researchers used Braun & Clarke's thematic analysis to identify emergent themes related to engineering students' mental health help-seeking beliefs. Six major themes were identified: 1) An unsupportive engineering training environment creates stress, 2) Difficult work and time constraints create stress, 3) Supportive input from others promotes help-seeking, 4) If time is limited, mental health is a lower priority, 5) Students operate on a suck it up mentality unless they've reached a breaking point and 6) Help-seeking is associated with public shame. Implications associated with these results are discussed, including opportunities for faculty and administrators to engage in structural and cultural changes within their programs to improve help-seeking in undergraduate engineers.

Original languageEnglish
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jul 26 2021
Event2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference, ASEE 2021 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Jul 26 2021Jul 29 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
A grant from the National Science Foundation (#2024394) supported this study.

Publisher Copyright:
© American Society for Engineering Education, 2021


  • Engineering
  • Help-seeking
  • Mental health
  • STEM students
  • Stressors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering (all)


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