First Generation Children: Where Mental Health and Education Coincide

What is a First Generation child?

The term first generation can have many different interpretations or meanings but essentially a first generation child is someone whose parents immigrated from another country. Essentially they are the first children in the family to be born in the country that their parents immigrated to.

What is the problem?

According to numerous studies, first generation children and students are more likely to suffer from mental illness on top of the already climbing rate of mental illness among children. In a scholarly article written in 2017 researchers introduced the concept called

“academic acculturative stress, which is the stress that students face when entering the higher education’s academic culture” (p.130). The researchers claim that since first generation students have not been exposed to the culture of higher education in their homes; they are not equipped to navigate college life. In addition, first generation students are more likely to balance two different cultures. During their time in college, they balance their home culture where they interact with less educated people and the academic atmosphere that holds high expectations for them.”

Students who are of the first to attend to college in their family are suffering unique struggles that are being overlooked. They struggle in finding a sense of belonging in a place where neither they nor their family have experience in. They feel as if they don’t belong in a place that offers them higher education. In an article by the New York Times first generation students interviewed other first generation students about their college experiences. Marina Rochelle from Armes, Iowa said

“My biggest worry about being a first-gen student is trying to figure out how I’ll afford to pay my tuition and bills without the help of my parents. In fact, the reason I’m a first-gen is because no one else in my family could afford the luxury and privilege of attending college. I even had to take a gap year before attending to save money. I don’t have credit for a personal loan nor the high school G.P.A. for scholarships. What do I do?”

Having to worry about financial stability while pursuing a degree is taxing on an individual and is something that detracts from someone’s college experience, hence adding to their feeling of not belonging.

Why should I care?

First Generation kids are foundations of our community. They are going to be the movers and shakers of our generation as they have experiences that will help them contribute to the world in such a unique way. However, many of them fall victim to depression or other mental illnesses because of the unique pressures they are under, leaving them unable to reach their full potential.

What can we do?

We can first start by offering help to those who need the extra support. By giving them a stable support system they will be able to rise above their troubles. We can also begin by helping them feel like they belong to the academic community they are a part of. Todd Hibbs discusses ways in which we can help first generation students feel like they belong in his Ted Talk below.

Why do I care? What is the purpose of this?

Although by some definitions I am not a “first generation student” I definitely have dealt with pressures and struggles of one. Both my parents were born in Central America and came to the United States in search of a safer place to receive education. Through many hardships my mother was able to receive her Bachelor’s degree from a local college, but my father never completed his education. My parents have always wanted me to go further than they have which resulted in internalized pressure and a sense of not belonging in the education I have received. In my high school, the rate of enrollment in college is 100% and almost every child attends an out of school institution. Since middle school these children have received a higher education, one that I had never experienced before until I joined them for high school. Had I know that my struggles were justified I might have had an easier time integrating into that community. The purpose of my Catalyst Conference project is to create awareness among students (and everyone) about the struggles of first generation students and hopefully help someone like me to validate their struggles.

Works Cited

Becerra, and Melissa. “Mental Health and Academic Performance of First-Generation College Students and Continuing-Generation College Students.” EScholarship, University of California, 28 June 2018,

Close, Ciara, et al. “The Mental Health and Wellbeing of First Generation Migrants: a Systematic-Narrative Review of Reviews.” Globalization and Health, BioMed Central, 25 Aug. 2016,

House, Lisa A, et al. “Supporting the Mental Health Needs of First Generation College Students.” Taylor & Francis, 18 Feb. 2019,

Stableton, Michael J, et al. “First-Generation Students’ Sense of Belonging, Mental Health, and Use of Counseling Services at Public Research Universities.” Research Gate, Apr. 2014,’_Sense_of_Belonging_Mental_Health_and_Use_of_Counseling_Services_at_Public_Research_Universities.

Ted Talk. “First Generation Students | Todd Hibbs | TEDxAlmaCollege” YouTube, speech by Todd Hibbs, 10 May 2016,

“Q&A: First-Generation Students.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 June 2017,

Share this project
  1. April 26, 2019 by Addie

    This is really cool, Madison! Thanks for giving me a new perspective and insight into what it means for a kid pursuing a higher education to be a first generation child as well. We had an assembly last year where some students spoke to this, and from what I remember they said, you hit it on the head.

  2. April 26, 2019 by Jaren.Manivong

    As a first generation kid, I can definitely resonate with this project. I definitely have experienced extreme pressure and college-related stress, and the pressure to succeed. One of the main sources of this stress however has come from my parents. How do you think we can get immigrant parents to be more healthily supportive of their children rather than pressuring them in such a way that depression and anxiety and feelings of not reaching full potential are the consequences?

  3. April 27, 2019 by Rachel.Dulski

    Madison, I really enjoyed hearing your story and perspective. I am curious, how would you include extra support for first-generation children? I know that at my school we have a program to make sure students are transitioning well and are supported. Were you thinking of adding extra support to schools and how would you implement it?

  4. April 28, 2019 by Heather .Hersey

    Hi Madison, this is a very unique and important perspective on psychology. Have you read about any programs that are serving first-general students well?

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