Supporting student parent mental health is an integral component of increasing postsecondary completion. Ascend and the Jed Foundation (JED) are partnering to advance the academic persistence and completion of students who are parents by addressing mental health. This partnership will develop a comprehensive mental health framework for postsecondary institutions to improve their mental health supports for student parents. It will also work to improve retention and educational outcomes for student parents.

JED partners with colleges to build a comprehensive approach to support student mental health and educates communities as well to better support their emotional well-being. The Aspen Postsecondary Success for Parents (PSP) Initiative raises awareness about student parents and shares recommendations to increase their postsecondary completion. The initiative produced a 2019 brief focused on identifying and addressing mental health needs among student parents. While researching the issue, Ascend noticed that there is a dearth of information and resources in the area. The report notes in part that, “a one-size-fits-all approach to supporting the mental health needs of postsecondary students is short sighted.”

To kickoff this new project, Ascend and JED convened a strategy session for the Ascend Parent Advisors and National Advisors to examine strategies that support the mental health of student parents. Both advisory groups provide postsecondary expertise and experience to inform the PSP initiative.

The strategy session featured a presentation about the status of mental health among college students by Sara Gorman, director of research and knowledge dissemination at JED, and a Q&A moderated by Kamla Modi, JED’s director of learning and evaluation. Gorman noted that anxiety and depression are the most common mental health conditions among college students according to the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment. Students of color experience additional stressors such as feeling excluded and isolated on campus compared to their white peers.

To combat these issues as well as the stigma of mental health, Gorman said JED works to establish positive attitudes among students and those who support them. “We try to normalize the discussion around mental health – make sure that the feeling of embarrassment or ‘We shouldn’t talk about this’ is taken out of the picture. That people who aren’t young adults (teachers and parents) learn how to support [them],” she said.

Modi added that they found via an evaluation survey that many of the schools JED collaborates with through their JED Campus program are doing strategic planning exercises and activities with regard to prioritizing student mental health on their college campus. “We see more schools are identifying students’ mental health challenges in campus health centers, at campus health visits,” Modi said. “If a student comes in for something related to their physical health, there will be a mental health inventory as well, which is a great way to identify students and to catch them before things get more severe.”

JED’s presentation was followed by a panel featuring three Ascend Parent Advisors – Lesley Del Rio, program manager at the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Denver (who served as the moderator), Amber Angel, program coordinator at Los Angeles Valley College’s Family Resource Center, and Waukecha Wilkerson, learning program content consultant for Cell-Ed. The trio have participated in an ad hoc mental health working group of the Parent Advisors to develop practices to support their individual and collective mental health needs throughout the year , including tapping into support from Project Self-Sufficiency – an organization that provides wraparound services for parents pursuing a postsecondary degree, and challenges with online therapy.

Ascend and JED are excited to join forces to examine these gaps and challenges on campus and share effective polices, practices, and strategies that will improve student parents’ well-being and lead to postsecondary completion.

Learn more about JED here. Download Ascend’s Identifying and Addressing Mental Health Needs brief here and download the Equity in Mental Health Framework Toolkit by the Steve Fund and JED here. Stay tuned for the upcoming Ascend and JED student parent mental health framework.