ASU grad, veteran pursues career in mental health to meet demand for more counselors

Portrait of Yasmeen Duarte in an outdoor setting smiling

Yasmeen Duarte, ASU College of Integrative Sciences and Arts Outstanding Undergraduate for spring 2024, is earning a bachelor's degree in counseling and applied psychological science through ASU Online. Courtesy photo


Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

When Yasmeen Duarte’s time in the U.S. Army as a combat medic was cut short with an honorable discharge after an injury, Duarte was inspired to shift her career goals from treating the physical body to treating the mind.

She chose to pursue a second bachelor’s degree in counseling and applied psychological science from the School of Counseling and Counseling Psychology in Arizona State University's College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, with a plan to help meet the overwhelming demand for more mental health counselors and advocates in both the military community and the general population.

Duarte is graduating summa cum laude and will be honored as the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts Outstanding Undergraduate for spring 2024.

Her nominator, Clinical Assistant Professor Laura Jimenez Arista, said Duarte excelled in theoretical courses as well as in her practicum, receiving the highest possible ratings in her volunteer internship with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“Yasmeen also distinguished herself as a scholar, initiating a research project on social media and mental health that was so good that it has turned into a collaboration with me and a faculty member at The Ohio State University and will be submitted for publication,” Jimenez Arista added.

Duarte said the project idea came about when she started questioning whether some of the content related to mental health that she was seeing on TikTok was glamorizing mental illness, and if so, what effect could that have on mental health. 

“A lot of research has been conducted on the effect that screen time and social media can have on mental health, and as someone who wants to work in the mental health field, those influences have always been at the back of my mind,” she explained. “Also, as someone who has social media, it's something I try to be conscious of for my own mental well-being.

“I kept seeing videos and comments that weren't really of a healthy nature and seemed to be glamorizing mental illness and portraying mental illness as something to be sought out,” she continued. 

A quick search of #mentalhealth on Instagram brings up more than 51 million posts, Duarte said, and on TikTok there are more than 115.5 billion views under this hashtag.

"While all this attention to mental health has helped destigmatize talking openly about it, much of the media was filled with exaggerated, inaccurate, and comical depictions of what it is like to have a mental illness, projecting the idea of ‘beautiful suffering,’ or the idea that being mentally ill was something to be revered and was trendy.  

"After doing the initial research, I became even more interested in the topic and shared my research with Dr. Jimenez Arista," said Duarte, “and from there we decided to explore the topic further through our own research."

The research team collected and analyzed 420 online posts from TikTok and Instagram that included general terms such as “mental illness” and “mental disorder” and specific terms such as “depression,” “anxiety,” “OCD,” as well as adjectives such as “beautiful,” “perfect” “awesome,” “wonderful,” “cool,” and “great,” among others.

“We then used content analysis to examine and rate the data to identify patterns of perspective and meaning. Six categories surfaced: glamorization, humor, self-diagnosing, help-seeking, validation and anti-glamorization,” said Duarte, who shared a poster summarizing the research at the spring Student Research Showcase at ASU Polytechnic campus on April 24.

After graduation, Duarte will be enrolling in an online master's degree that will prepare her to earn her licensure to work as a certified counselor.  

“With my certification, I plan to work with military members and their families,” she emphasized, “by teaching them resiliency practices and by providing another voice in support and advocacy to address their mental health concerns.”

Note: Answers may have been lightly edited for grammar, length, or clarity.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom, lab or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: As human beings, we instinctively avoid conflict and things that challenge our views, thoughts, beliefs, and ways of life. We traditionally do not like to be told we are wrong, and we are even slower to admit it ourselves. We do not like to be contradicted or challenged and are rarely willing to accept new truths. This discomfort or distaste of this opposition is known as cognitive dissonance. Although instinctively uncomfortable, we need to embrace those feelings of discomfort and be open-minded to contradictions. Doing so allows us to grow as individuals, and this helps to create a more productive and accepting world. In other words, we need to welcome challenges and view opposition as a chance for personal growth.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU Online because of its reputation. ASU is one of the best online colleges for military students, and I had just recently transitioned out of the military before starting at ASU. Additionally, I really loved the classes available for my degree program, counseling and applied psychological science. I thought the classes were extremely relevant to a career as a counselor. I feel like the classes I took prepared me for the next steps in my career journey and gave me the insight I needed to confirm that I was on the right path.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: It's all going to work out how it's supposed to. I know life can be frustrating and you're gonna beat yourself up over mistakes or opportunities missed, but the universe has a plan. It's important to remember that wherever you are is exactly where you need to be. If you need to take a moment to have a bad day, take that moment. And don't forget to take that moment on a good day as well. Just be kind to yourself and go confidently.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: Black Crown Coffee Company in Tucson, Arizona. It's open 8–12 a.m. and has amazing coffee and wifi. It has comfortable seating and everyone there seems to be working hard on their own dreams, so it is nice being surrounded by that motivating energy.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: There are so many good options that would dramatically help improve or change people's lives for the better. But if I had to pick one, I would want to help improve reading comprehension and ensure children and teenagers have access to books.

Reading is a big passion of mine and I credit my success and enthusiasm for learning to my long-time love of reading. Reading comprehension and reading literacy are essential skills that are not always easily developed, and with the age of social media, I fear it may only get worse. So I think it's really important that we encourage people to develop a love for reading and, by proxy, learning.

Reading not only develops your mind and gives you access to an unfathomable amount of knowledge, but there are so many life lessons that can be learned through reading. Reading helps you understand the world around you better. Plus, reading can give you an escape from reality, and I think sometimes we need a break from our lives and the normal life stressors that come with being a human in modern society. A good book can change your life! So if I had $40 million, I would want to make sure everyone had that opportunity.

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