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Top of the Hill

Senior researcher's work earns national recognition

For those struggling with anxiety and depression, sometimes even getting out of bed can feel overwhelming.

On those days, coming up with a viable explanation for one’s boss or professor as to why it’s difficult to function can be daunting.

“If you broke your arm or have the flu it’s much easier, but when I try to explain it’s my brain, it’s not always so openly received,” said Abby Smargon, ’21.

It’s a stigma Abby hopes to change. To that end, she selected as the topic of her undergraduate research project is Mental Health in College Students: Disclosure & Seeking Support.

Her work generated an invitation to present her findings at Posters on the Hill, the most competitive undergraduate research showcase in the country.

Only 60 students across the nation are selected each year to present before U.S. House and Senate legislative staff as well as other federal and non-staff members.

This marks the eleventh year in a row that Bridgewater State University has had a least one student accepted to Posters on the Hill.

Normally presenters travel to Washington D.C., but this year due to the pandemic, Abby will share her research at the virtual event held April 27-28.

“I am so overwhelmed with excitement and gratitude,” Abby said of being selected to the prestigious event. “To know something I’ve dealt with my whole life is that important, that I get to be the person to speak about it, means more to me than I can put into words.”

Last summer the Mansfield native was awarded an Adrian Tinsley Program grant to conduct her research on the mental health of BSU students.

The study examines mental health difficulties students face and how it impacts their academic performance. It also looks at whether students who report mental health difficulties, are made aware of and use available behavioral health supports.

“I’ve always been a mental health advocate and wanted to look more deeply at what it’s like to experience mental health and how it impacts academic performance,” Abby said. “In high school I and other people I knew, struggled with anxiety and depression. It’s not like you start feeling better when you get to college. The struggles are still there, and I wanted to look into that.”

Of the 50 students surveyed, she found there are students struggling with mental health issues and that they do reach out for behavioral supports.

“Bridgewater does a really good job making sure our voices are heard,” Abby said.

Through her research and being invited to Posters on the Hill, the budding social worker has found a level of confidence she didn’t know she possessed.

“Living with a mental health illness, at times I’ve convinced myself that I’m not good enough, but this has taught me I have a level of worth and capability,” Abby said. “I never pictured myself as a researcher, but this has made me see myself in a different light and made me feel I can do anything.

“I hope it paints a picture for others that you are never not good enough or qualified enough, because I now feel like I can do anything, that nothing is impossible.”

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