“I had such a positive college experience, but I was aware that I had a lot of resources to make that happen. I wanted to be part of improving accessibility to wellness resources and the overall collegiate experience so that students can thrive and go off and graduate feeling empowered.”
The Hogg Foundation awards its annual Henry E. And Bernice M. Moore Fellowship of $20,000 to one doctoral candidate at The University of Texas at Austin (UT) whose dissertation research pertains to the mental health impact of crises, stress and adversity.
This year’s Moore Fellowship recipient, Erin Morpeth, will earn her doctorate in counseling psychology from The University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Psychology in 2023. We took the time to chat with her about her award-winning dissertation titled, “Voices of Students in Crisis: A Mixed Methods Study of College Students Hospitalized for Psychiatric Distress.”
Hogg Foundation: Tell us about yourself. At what point did you decide to make student mental health your academic specialty, and what influenced that decision?
Erin Morpeth: I’m a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the Counseling Psychology program here at UT Austin. I also work as a practicum counselor at Texas State University, and as a Graduate Assistant for the University of Texas System Mental Health, Student Safety, and Alcohol-Related initiatives and as the Substance Use Safety Graduate Assistant at the Longhorn Wellness Center.
I decided very early actually, my own freshman year at Florida State University, that students in crisis would be both my clinical and academic focus. I had such a positive college experience, but I was aware that I had a lot of resources to make that happen. I wanted to be part of improving accessibility to wellness resources and the overall collegiate experience so that students can thrive and go off and graduate feeling empowered.
Hogg Foundation: What questions are you trying to answer with your research?
Morpeth: With the quantitative piece of this study, I’m asking, “What is unique to students who have been hospitalized for psychiatric distress?” I’ll be looking at things like colleges of study (i.e., natural sciences, liberal arts, etc.), year in school, and gender and sexuality, in addition to things like law enforcement and counseling center involvement. Which groups of students are over-represented in hospitalizations?
The qualitative piece is exploratory and primarily inductive. I want to hear from students what their experience with hospitalization was like, particularly as a student. What role did the university play? Did the student feel in control? How were their academics and peer relationships impacted?
Hogg Foundation: What led to your taking a professional interest in this particular topic?
Morpeth: I’ve had an interest in the more severe forms of distress among college students since my master’s program, where I researched suicidality. There’s a huge growing body of research on things like depression and anxiety among college students, but not nearly as much about how to help students who may need a higher level of care. Hospitalization can be a very disruptive and traumatizing experience for some and if we can minimize those pieces, hopefully we can help more students stay (and thrive) in school.
The events of 2020 pushed me toward this topic as well. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown a light on many issues within our medical system, and we need to think about the level of risk students face just going into a hospital. We’ve also had a major, over-due wake-up call with police brutality and given the high likelihood of police involvement with psychiatric hospitalizations, I want to better understand how we can improve these relationships and policies.
Hogg Foundation: How do you think your research methods and approach help you answer the questions you’re posing?
Morpeth: I’m really excited about the qualitative piece of this project in particular. An open, exploratory approach will create room for a variety of themes to emerge and I’ll hopefully get to hear from a wide range of students. With a stigmatized group like this, it’s even more important to hear directly from the students themselves – their stories are the focus here, not just their statistics.
Hogg Foundation: Are there any suggested readings you can recommend for those who might be interested in learning more about this topic?
Morpeth: I suggest the following readings:
Rosecan, A., Goldberg, R., & Wise, T. (1992). Psychiatrically Hospitalized College Students: A Pilot Study. Journal of American College Health, 41(1), 11–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/07448481.1992.9936301
Morris, M. R., Feldpausch, N. I., Eshelman, M. G. I., & Bohle-Frankel, B. U. (2019). Recovering in place: Creating campus models of care for the high-risk college student. Current Psychiatry Reports, 21(11), 1-8.
Mitchell, S. L., Kader, M., Haggerty, M. Z., Bakhai, Y. D., & Warren, C. G. (2013). College Student Utilization of a Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program. Journal of College Counseling, 16(1), 49–63. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-1882.2013.00026.x
Moses, T. (2011). Adolescents’ Perspectives About Brief Psychiatric Hospitalization: What is Helpful and What is Not? Psychiatric Quarterly, 82(2), 121–137. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11126-010-9151-1
Gruttadaro, D., & Crudo, D. (2012). College students speak: A survey report on mental health. National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1-24.
Lipson, S. K., Lattie, E. G., & Eisenberg, D. (2019). Increased rates of mental health service utilization by US college students: 10-year population-level trends (2007–2017). Psychiatric Services, 70(1), 60-63.
The University of Michigan Department of Student Life. (2016). Student Guide to Mental Health Hospitalization. Retrieved from https://deanofstudents.umich.edu/files/dos/studentguidetomentalhealthhospitalizationfinal.pdf