NASFAA Community Members Highlight the Importance of Mental Health Awareness

By Tim Maggio, Community Manager

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time when many institutions join the national movement to raise awareness about the importance of mental health.

Conversation and support for mental health is more important than ever before, according to recent statistics collected by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The NAMI HelpLine saw an increase of more than 300% in help-seekers in recent years — from 18,000 in 2016 to nearly 80,000 in 2022.

Higher education institutions have also seen a spike in the number of mental health support requests at their institutions. According to the Healthy Minds Study, which collected data from 373 campuses nationwide between 2013 and 2021, more than 60% of students surveyed met the criteria for one or more mental health problems.

Many institutions find themselves at the epicenter of mental health. As research published in the National Library of Medicine points out, many mental health issues correlate with traditional college-age years. In fact, it was noted that 75% of individuals have their first onset of a mental health disorder by age 25.

When factoring finances into the conversation, many financial aid professionals have found themselves in a difficult situation where they are balancing the rules and regulations with the person in front of them.

Kerry Davis, assistant director of financial aid at University of Illinois at Chicago, said mental health training is not addressed frequently enough for financial aid professionals.

“We have to deliver bad news to students and parents so frequently. … We often have students crying in our office due to financial issues or inability to make payments,” Davis said. She explained that while her team is excellent at what they do, many have little to no formal training in supporting students in crisis. 

Christina Ayres, director of financial aid and scholarships at Utah State University, said her team works closely with their Counseling and Psychological Services team to receive training for mental health emergencies.

“I feel like we have to keep the conversation going. Some days are really hard for us too, but we have a bigger fight we can't give up,” Aryes said.

For some, the mental health training and support provided by institutions makes a big difference. 

“I see so many students struggling, and I know my own son struggled, too, as a freshman,” said Lynn Goldenne, financial aid counselor at Brevard College. “Our school does not take this lightly. [It’s] one of the reasons I was drawn to working here.”

In several NASFAA Communities, many professionals highlighted Mental Health First Aid training courses as an invaluable resource their institution has provided. Terra Baca, a new professional community member, explained how the course was an excellent training resource for difficult situations.

“A key takeaway was that you can make a real difference for someone who is struggling, simply by being available to listen and provide access to resources. You probably can't solve their problems, but you can always ask how someone is feeling, listen to them, and let them know that there are resources available to help,” said Baca, a financial aid specialist at Coconino Community College.

While many aid professionals focused on the mental health of students and how to support them, some community members reminded others how it is important to take care of yourself as well.

Traci Spagnoli Rego, assistant director of financial aid for state funds and management at Broward College, shared how she recently encouraged her staff to take time off. Rego promotes “mental health days” where her team members can focus on themselves.

“I chose to do mine floating from my very large, oversized flamingo (raft) that I now call Felicia. Everyone needs a Felicia to hang with once in a while,” Rego shared with the community in Slack. 

For relevant conversations with financial aid professionals across the country, check out NASFAA Communities.

If you are experiencing mental health issues, it is important to seek help and support. You are not alone, and there are resources available to assist you. Here are some organizations and resources that can provide support and guidance:

  1. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 988 to speak with a trained crisis counselor who can provide emotional support and resources.

  2. Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor who can provide confidential support via text message.

  3. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): NAMI is the largest mental health organization in the United States and provides a range of resources, including support groups and educational programs. Visit their website at to find local resources.

  4. Mental Health America (MHA): MHA is a community-based nonprofit organization that offers screening tools, educational resources, and advocacy services. Visit their website at for more information.

  5. Your healthcare provider: If you have a health care provider, they can provide guidance and support for your mental health concerns. They may refer you to a mental health specialist or recommend treatment options.


Publication Date: 5/17/2023

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