Many college students live with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, but that doesn’t have to be a barrier to achievement, said Fresno State graduate Andrea Lee.
Despite receiving a diagnosis of bipolar disorder just as she started college, Lee recently graduated summa cum laude from Fresno State’s Craig School of Business at age 19, after only two years at the University. Now, Lee is highlighting mental health issues with her new podcast, “The HiLow Podcast.”
“The HiLow Podcast is where I bring people on who have mental illnesses, interview them about their stories and ask them to share how they live and what advice they have for other people,” said Lee, who started the podcast to create her own support network.
“I created the podcast to help myself, but I also realized that I can help others by doing it. There’s around 46 million people, globally, who have bipolar disorder. There are a lot of people who need this resource. They have to navigate through this every day, it’s a lifelong mental health condition.”
Lee’s podcast emphasizes that people with mental illness live the same ordinary lives as everyone. “I did an interview with a man who has two kids and has Tourette syndrome and bipolar disorder, so it was a very interesting conversation about family life,” Lee said.
A business administration major with an option in entrepreneurship, Lee launched her podcast at the Student Hatchery, part of the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The Student Hatchery is a selective program that offers students office space and entrepreneurial coaching to help develop a working business. To be considered for the program, students must meet GPA requirements and present a business plan.
“The Student Hatchery was definitely my dream program,” said Lee. “I looked at it like 30 times, but I never had the confidence to apply because it seemed so prestigious. I really wanted to do it, but I just didn’t have the confidence. But this past semester I decided I’m going to do it, and I wrote my business plan.”
Lee said the support network and mentorship at the Student Hatchery, her entrepreneurship classes and her fellow students helped her turn her business plan into an actual production.
“The struggle was with self-doubt and impostor syndrome, which I think is true for a lot of students,” Lee said. “The Student Hatchery is a really good community, and when you have people around you, supporting you, you can go that much further.”
Lee’s passion for entrepreneurship stems in part from the example of her immigrant grandfather, who first founded a successful rice company in Vietnam and then launched a successful Chinese restaurant in Hanford after coming to the United States.
“I really relate to my grandpa and his struggles. His struggles were enormous, coming from a war-stricken country and making his way to America, but he did more than just survive, he built something,” Lee said.
Lee gives the impression of being singularly driven and hard-working, but she said that her experience with mental illness has taught her that she must put her well-being above accomplishments. “I’m proud of my achievements in school, and I’m glad my parents instilled in me a very focused, academic mindset, but they have also advised me to be mindful of my mental health as well. Mental health comes first, and I think that’s way more sustainable,” Lee said.
Many college students deal with mental health conditions. According to the Healthy Minds Study, a national survey of student mental health, 41% of college students nationwide experience depression and 34% experience anxiety. Based on her own experience with bipolar disorder, Lee advises that students with mental health challenges should accept the reality of their situation and seek help.
“I think a lot of people are ashamed of their mental health struggles, especially in college, where there is such an emphasis on growing, learning and achieving things,” Lee said. “I think the first thing to do is accept your mental health condition, because it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and once you’ve accepted it, you can get support, whether that be professional help, medication or support from your family and friends. You’re not going to be able to achieve your goals without prioritizing your mental health.”
Now that she has her bachelor’s degree, Lee intends to pursue a Master of Business Administration, continue her podcast and create a website on mental health issues. Ultimately, she hopes to contribute to better understanding of mental health and a reduction of the stigma associated with mental illness.
“It is so important to have honest conversations about mental health, and that’s what I’m trying to do with my podcast. Everyone who has a mental illness is a person. If you care about people, you should care about making mental health a priority.”