Science Summary

Dana Humphrey / December 21, 2017

1. DACA Program Linked to Psychological Wellbeing of Recipients: The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, announced in 2012, allows eligible undocumented youth who entered the country as minors, to apply for temporary lawful status, work and attend school legally. Researchers at the University of California published a study that linked the “legitimizing effect” of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program with participants’ improved psychological wellbeing. Using cross-sectional survey data from 487 Latino immigrant young adults in California collected in 2014 and 2015, study authors Whitney Laster Pirtle and Caitlin Patler analyzed predictors of three outcomes related to immigrants’ psychological wellbeing — distress, negative emotions, and deportation worry — before and after a transition from undocumented to lawfully present status. They found that reports of current psychological wellness were predicted by DACA status. These findings demonstrate the positive emotional effects of transitioning out of undocumented status for immigrant young adults. DACA has “opened the door to so many opportunities and possibilities,” Patler said. “They [DACA recipient] know how life can be.” Patler theorizes that the federal government’s impending termination of the DACA program could diminish the mental wellbeing of these recipients to worse than it was before the program began, though further fieldwork is needed to test the theory.

2. Social Norms Marketing Intervention Associated with Lower Alcohol Consumption: As a part of the Spit for Science Study, a longitudinal study of students’ substance use and emotional health, researchers studied the effect of a campus-wide social norms marketing campaign on students’ perceptions of their peers alcohol use, and their own alcohol consumption including frequency of blackouts. The study found that students who saw the campaign messages were more likely to hold accurate perceptions of peer alcohol use. Additionally, accurate perceptions of peer alcohol were associated with students reporting fewer alcoholic drinks per sitting and fewer blackouts. This program evaluation supports the use of social norms marketing as a population-level intervention to reduce high risk drinking.

3. LGBT College Students Are at Higher Risk for Depression and Suicidal Ideation: According to a new study, queer and transgender students experience depression and consider suicide at a rate four times higher than their heterosexual and cisgender peers. Researchers conducted a meta-analysis based on data from seven national student surveys representing nearly 90,000 LGBTQ students at 902 colleges and universities across the country. The analysis found that 17 percent of queer students and 20 percent of trans students reported self-injury over the past year, compared to only about 5 percent of heterosexual and cis-gendered students. And 22 percent of queer students and 25 percent of trans students reported having seriously considered suicide during the previous year, three times the rate of heterosexual (8 percent) and non-transgender peers (9 percent). Queer and trans students reported being so depressed that it hindered their ability to function at a rate twice that reported by heterosexual and non-transgender peers. Maren Greathouse, director of the Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers-New Brunswick who spearheaded the project said, “We’ve known that queer and transgender students suffer from depression and anxiety, but we’ve never had a nationwide sample of this size or such a diverse mix of public and private/religious schools. This finding was consistent across all datasets. This shows that this is not just a problem in rural America, it’s a problem everywhere.”

4. Self-Compassion Can Reduce Suicidal Behavior in College Students: A recent study published in the Journal of American College Health examines the association between self-compassion and suicidal behavior among college students, and the roles that depression and wellness behavior play in the relationship between the two. The study authors theorized that a lack of self-compassion and failure to practice basic health behaviors among college students places them at higher risk for suicidal behavior. The study found an association between self-compassion and lower risk of suicidal behavior. Researchers determined that self-compassion protects against suicidal behavior due, in part, to reduced depressive symptoms and practice of wellness behaviors. They concluded that strategies promoting self-compassion and wellness behavior can be successful in reducing suicidal behavior and ideation among college students.

5. Community College Students Have Unique Needs Regarding Sexual Assault, Substance Use, and Mental Health: Student populations at community colleges differ significantly from those at four-year colleges; they are typically more diverse, with higher rates of first-generation and minority students. The educational technology company EVERFI published a report describing the distinct needs of community colleges regarding student substance use, sexual assault and mental health. While these issues are extensively studied and addressed at four-year institutions, community college have largely been left out of the conversation. According to the EVERFI report, community college students are 20 percent more likely to have experienced sexual assault, and 50 percent more likely to have experienced relationship violence before arriving on campus than their counterparts at four-year institutions.

However, community college students are more aware of how to report sexual assault than students at four-year colleges and universities. The report also showed no significant differences in drinking rates between community college students and their peers at four-year residential schools, though the impact of alcohol use appears to be different between the two populations. Community college students who drink alcohol are less likely than students at four-year colleges to experience negative consequences associated with drinking, such as blackouts, hangovers, and academic issues. The report authors posit that this may be due to a lower likelihood of engaging in high-risk drinking behaviors, such as binge and high intensity drinking. Community college students face high rates of mental health issues, with 50 percent reporting having experienced an issue during the past year.

Additionally, 36 percent of students reported struggling with depression, 29 percent with anxiety, and 11 percent reported suicidal ideation, rates that are higher than students at four-year institutions. Furthermore, 70 percent of community college students who have experienced a mental health issue did not seek counseling or mental health services. The report states that “These findings illustrate the need for community colleges to increase outreach to students and ensure they have access to adequate resources both on campus and in the community.” Rob Buelow, vice president of prevention education at EVERFI says that he hopes the report will motivate community college administrators to educate both faculty and students about these issues.