Meet the Researcher - Abby Smargon

​Breakout Room: 25

AbbySmargon150Researcher Name: Abby Smargon
Title of Research: Exploring the Relationship Between Mental Health, Behavioral Health Supports, and Undergraduate College Performance in Public University Students
Division Representing: Social Sciences
Institution: Bridgewater State University
Institution Location: Massachusetts
Home State: Massachusetts
District Number: 8
Advisor/Mentor: Taylor Hall
Funding Source: ATP Summer Research Grant at Bridgewater State University 

Research Experience: 
My Social Work coursework and practice, undergraduate research, and community-based service all have centered on mental health advocacy. I have partnered the last 6 years with McLean Hospital and The Shine Initiative, two mental-health organizations, to promote honest conversations about mental illness, including suicidiality, among high school students, parents, teachers, and school staff. This work has deepened my understanding of the prevalence of anxiety and depression among adolescents, who then often carry unaddressed struggles into college. I built on that advocacy and my course-based research to carry out a quantitative study in Summer 2020, with funding from Bridgewater State University's competitive summer grant for undergraduate research, about college students' mental health issues during the pandemic. In Fall 2020 I moved into the next phase of the study for my honors thesis, with additional, qualitative research questions.My research and advocacy work on mental health struggles of adolescents and young adults, particularly during remote learning as a result of COVID-19, has led to recommendations for colleges and universities to support students' mental health and academic success. This work has greatly influenced my planned professional path. In May 2021 I will graduate with a Bachelor's degree and departmental honors (3.9 GPA) in Social Work and a minor in Psychology. I hope to continue my education through an MSW program. I believe that strong research skills will be highly beneficial not only in graduate school but also throughout my career as an evidence-based practitioner. 

Significance of Research: 
In order to better understand the mental health and help-seeking behaviors of college students during the COVID-19 pandemic, this study was conducted at a diverse, public, comprehensive university in the Northeast U.S. The aim of this study is to ask students about their mental health experiences, examine whether mental health difficulties impact academic performance, and lastly, whether students who report mental health difficulties are aware of and are utilizing behavioral health supports on the college campus and beyond. An anonymous survey was distributed via email and Facebook to undergraduate students, which included multiple choice and open-ended questions regarding demographics, mental health, academic performance, and behavioral health supports. The findings that resulted from the 50 survey responses received illustrated that college students (particularly white female students with an average age of 25) are experiencing elevated levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. Data also shows that students with mental health difficulties are reporting struggles with academic performance, and largely this group also notes that they are involved with accessing behavioral health supports to cope with their mental health difficulties. The findings from this study provide important implications surrounding the need for additional mental health support and outreach services provided by colleges and universities, particularly in terms of more awareness of college student mental health difficulties to decrease the stigma as well as increased counseling options.  

Uniqueness of Research: 
These research findings have important implications for availability of services for college students struggling with mental health difficulties. The prevalence of these struggles, specifically anxiety and depression, necessitates the accessibility of effective mental health support options. Additionally, the findings provide insight regarding the importance of mental health awareness during times of global crisis. 


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