Self-Regulation and Students with Mental Illness


Ren VanderLind

Ren VanderLind is a doctoral student at Texas State University studying Developmental Literacy. Her research interests are currently focused on the issues facing college students with mental illness, particularly in terms of resilience, stigmatization, and identity development. She currently works as the Graduate Coordinator in the Texas State University Writing Center. Questions or comments can be directed to Ren at

College student mental health has been shown to relate to lack of academic success, persistence, and degree completion (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).  Research has also demonstrated how students reporting mental health concerns may benefit from development of self-regulatory skills (Van Nguyen, Laohasiriwong, Saengsuwan, Thinkhamrop, & Wright, 2015).

When working to support the needs of students with mental illness, one might feel pressured to have all the answers; on the contrary, there is no one solution for supporting the needs of college students with mental illness as symptoms and necessary supports are rather diverse.  One promising practice for increasing the success of college students with mental illness is teaching self-regulatory skills alongside explicit instruction in how to apply these skills outside the classroom.

By teaching self-regulatory processes, one can provide support to students with mental illness without requiring that they self-disclose their diagnoses or that you specialize your instruction; development of self-regulatory skills is beneficial for all students.  To accomplish this, ask students to monitor their behaviors and the efficacy of them as well as how they might go back and revise their approach for a better outcome.  Then make explicit how this can apply to their academic pursuits as well as their personal lives.  Show students how using self-regulation can benefit them when they are struggling outside the classroom, such as in instances in which they need to seek help.

Developing metacognitive and self-regulatory skills will benefit this population immensely, as building self-awareness is a large component of managing mental illness symptoms.  If you can help students grow in self-awareness, you can help them become more in tune with their personal and academic needs.  It may seem like a small step, but teaching these skills to your students can help those who have diagnosed mental illnesses persist through the course, semester, and academic career.


Breslau, N., Lane, M., Sampson, N., & Kessler, R. C. (2008). Mental health disorders and subsequent educational attainment in a US national sample. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 42, 708-716.

Cranford, J. A., Eisenberg, D., & Serras, A. M. (2009). Substance use behaviors, mental health problems, and use of mental health services in a probability sample of college students. Addictive Behaviors, 34, 134-145. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2008.09.004

Elion, A. A., Wang, K. T., Slaney, R. B., & French, B. H. (2012). Perfectionism in African American students: Relationship to racial identity, GPA, self-esteem, and depression. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 18(2), 118-127.

Keyes, C. L. M., Eisenberg, D., Perry, G. S., Dube, S. R., Kroenke, K., & Dhingra, S. S. (2012). The relationship of level of positive mental health with current mental disorders in predicting suicidal behavior and academic impairment in college students. Journal of American College Health, 60(2), 126-133.

Thompson, E. A., Connelly, C. D., Thomas-Jones, D., & Eggert, L. L. (2013). School difficulties and co-occurring health risk factors: Substance use, aggression, depression, and suicidal behaviors. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 26, 74-84.

Van Nguyen, H., Laohasiriwong, W., Saengsuwan, J., Thinkhamrop, B., & Wright, P. (2015). The relationships between the use of self-regulated learning strategies and depression among medical students: An accelerated prospective cohort study. Psychology, Health, & Medicine, 20(1), 59-70.