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.


Centering Disability Support in the Learning Center

Jack Trammell RMC pic (1)

Jack Trammell, Ph.D.

Jack Trammell received his B. A. degree in political science from Grove City College and, following a M. Ed., was awarded a Ph. D. in Education, Research and Evaluation from Virginia Commonwealth University. His experience includes working as a special education teacher in the Virginia public schools. He is currently Director of Disability Support Services and Assistant Professor in the Sociology Department, teaching disability studies at Randolph-Macon College. His research interests include disability stigma, transition, and the social mechanisms related to disability discrimination. He can be reached by email at:

Disability support in higher education has its roots in a more general educational access tradition that dates back much further than the 1990 and 2008 reauthorized Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504. In the 1950s, Dr. John King hired football players to assist a teacher candidate who was a wheelchair user, and he began a long career of advocacy for physical access to campus spaces (Fleischer & Zames, 2001). In a similar fashion, the learning assistance movement that gained traction in the 1970s, and spread through major universities, benefited many students with disabilities and highlighted the need for new partnerships (Boylan, 1982).

In the post-1990 ADA environment, disability support services have been routinely offered to students, but the organizational structures have varied widely—some resources were located in medical schools; some in student services; some in academic services—and some were actually housed within learning assistance programs (LAPs) or academic centers. Of all the models, a strong argument can be made that disability support services (DSS) fits most effectively within the learning center for programmatic, philosophical, and assessment purposes.
The following is an abbreviated list of reasons supporting such an organizational concept:

• Philosophically, disability support is an effort to foster equal access to education; this is the core mission of learning assistance.

• In terms of accommodation, differentiation, remediation, and elaboration, all learning assistance programs potentially can benefit from shared resources, ranging from general tutoring programs to reading programs targeted specifically at students with dyslexia—silos can actually create more inequity.

• Increasingly, students with disabilities are overrepresented in learning assistance programs, and LAPs can therefore benefit from DSS resources.

• Learning centers tend to have more elaborate administrative structures, which actually can benefit more traditionally isolated DSS units.

• Learning assistance has a rich literature and expertise that overlaps with DSS.

• Disability is being conceptualized in the ongoing disability rights movement (DRM) as mainstream; and therefore, shouldn’t be isolated or set apart in a stigmatizing manner (a good reason not to house DSS in the medical school if possible).

• Universal Design in Learning (UDL) increasingly suggests that the gestalt of learning success requires overlapping access to resources and core learning skills across varied student demographics.

Each institution is different, of course, and will have its own unique circumstances. Program assessment is also critical in order to determine the effectiveness of current or potential organizational structures (Trammell, 2005). Increasingly, however, there is both practical and philosophical evidence that centering the disability support office in the learning center makes good sense for many institutions.


Boylan, H. R. (1982). Forging new partnerships in learning assistance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fleischer, D. Z., & Zames, F. (2001). The disability rights movement: From charity to confrontation. Philadelphia:             Temple University Press.

Trammell, J. (2005). Learning about the learning center: Program evaluation for learning assistance programs. The             Learning Assistance Review, 10(2), 31-40.