Mental Health and Career Development of College Students

By Hinkelman, Jeanne M.; Luzzo, Darrell Anthony | Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Mental Health and Career Development of College Students


Hinkelman, Jeanne M., Luzzo, Darrell Anthony, Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD


Mental health and career development have potential reciprocal effects, yet very little has been written specifically about the combined effects of the mental health and career development of college students. Nevertheless, as many practitioners will attest, college students seeking services in college career and counseling centers often present both types of issues simultaneously or both issues become apparent in the course of counseling. For example, students seen in college career centers for concerns about choice of major or career often present with symptoms of depression or anxiety as well. Similarly, students seen in college mental health or counseling centers who are dealing with mental health issues (e.g., depression and/or anxiety) at times present with vocational concerns that may affect, or be affected by, their mental health status. Additional mental health issues, such as those related to family relationships (Kenny, 1987) and personality factors (e.g., Ge & Conger, 1999; Soldz & Vaillant, 1999), may also have reciprocal effects on college students' vocational and mental health functioning and success. It is, therefore, in the best interest of students to have mental health and vocational services available to them in college or graduate school, as well as in other settings (e.g., community one-stop center), and for the providers of these services to be cognizant of potentially interactive issues.

According to the Surgeon General (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999), mental health can be defined as

   The successful performance of mental function, resulting
   in productive activities, fulfilling relationships
   with other people, and the ability to adapt to change
   and to cope with adversity; from early childhood until
   late life, mental health is the springboard of thinking
   and communication skills, learning, emotional growth,
   resilience, and self-esteem. (p. vii)

Others have defined mental health as "not simply the absence of detectable mental disease but a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to his or her community" (Desjarlais, Eisenberg, Good, & Kleinman, 1995, p. 7).

* Bridging the Vocational--Mental Health Gap

Theoretical Foundations

Donald Super (1951, 1963, 1980) was one of the first to propose a life-span developmental theory wherein career and personal counseling are seen as equally important in the career decision-making process. Super (1963) believed that making a career choice was linked with implementing one's vocational self-concept. Recently, there has been a movement to return to the integration of career and personal counseling and to implement it in practice (Heppner, O'Brien, Hinkelman, & Flores, 1996; Schultheiss, 2000). A holistic view of personal and career issues is crucial when counseling college students, particularly those who are simultaneously developing their identity, purpose, and interpersonal connections (Schultheiss, 2000).

Wrenn (1988) claimed that it is essential to view clients as dynamic wholes that are composed of many related dimensions. Emphasizing the need to integrate personal and mental health issues in career counseling, Kidd (1998) observed that emotion is rarely elaborated on in career theory and advocated for increased emphasis on the role of emotions in career counseling. Similarly, Manuele-Adkins (1992) argued for greater attention to the emotional and the psychological issues of career counseling clients.

Although attention in the literature to the interaction between work and mental health has increased, most of the related literature has focused on adult work concerns, the unemployed, or vocational rehabilitation issues (e.g., Kokko & Pulkkinen, 1998; Myers & Cairo, 1992). The relationship between the psychological and mental health consequences of career decisions has also been addressed (Herr, 1989; Spokane, 1989). …

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