University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee



Yaniris Garcia-Jerez

Student Spotlight: USF graduate's mental health struggles inspire her to help others

Born in the Dominican Republic, Yaniris Garcia-Jerez immigrated to the United States with her mother at age 3 to seek medical treatment for cardiovascular disease. Growing up in New York and Florida — with frequent return visits to her home country— Garcia-Jerez struggled with anxiety and depression and felt "insecure" and "stupid" whenever she struggled to find the motivation to complete her assignments at Braden River High School in Manatee County. Everything changed when Garcia-Jerez, now a senior at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus, received an ADHD diagnosis in 2020, a few weeks shy of her 20th birthday.

“I really wish I would’ve known from the start,” said Garcia-Jerez, who will graduate debt-free with a B.A. in psychology this semester — the first in her family to do so. “Just being able to learn about how my brain works has made such a big difference.” 

Since receiving her diagnosis, Garcia-Jerez has identified a number of useful time management strategies, including calendar blocking and the pomodoro method, which breaks tasks into intervals separated by short breaks. She hopes to go on medication in the near future. 

“It was kind of a shock even though I suspected it,” Garcia-Jerez said of her diagnosis. “I didn’t want to just assume that I had it. So, I didn’t feel valid. I felt like, well, I don’t think I have ADHD because I can still go to school and get good grades and it’s not like I’m using any substances to cope. I thought, well, if there’s an issue with me, they would have caught it in school, you know?” 

It took her about three weeks to come to terms with the news. 

“I went my whole life not knowing that I have a completely different brain. Why did no one notice?” she wondered. 

Since taking classes in cognitive, developmental and abnormal psychology at USF, Garcia-Jerez is now well-aware of the difficulties many girls and women face before receiving diagnoses for neurodevelopmental conditions like ADHD. 

“Girls are just sort of conditioned socially to pay attention and to be nice and not act up,” she said. “I think a lot of women could be in the same position that I am and not even know it.” 

The experience has taught Garcia-Jerez to be kind to herself and those around her. It has also inspired her to pursue a career in the growing mental health field, where she hopes to work with others — children, teens and young adults with disabilities — who struggle with their mental health in academic settings.  

“A lot of the issues I’ve faced academically could have been solved if maybe I had that support from the beginning,” she said. “I am very much interested in working with people with disabilities and people who struggle with their mental health because of my own experiences.” 

This wasn’t always the case.  

After working as a hostess and waitress at a local restaurant, Garcia-Jerez became certified as a Registered Behavior Technician and began working with children with autism at Invo and Elemy. 

She credits her sister, who has Down’s syndrome, for inspiring her to work with children with disabilities. 

“It felt important to me to represent my sister in that way and to care for other kids the way I care for her,” said Garcia-Jerez, who found the work simultaneously “rewarding” and “taxing.” 

Garcia-Jerez left her job to study abroad in Florence, Italy, this summer. When she returned, she landed a job with USF World, where she helps recruit and advise students and promote USF’s education abroad programs. 

With graduation approaching, her vision for the future is clear: continue working at USF World, tend to her own mental health needs and apply to graduate programs. 

She has her sights set on USF's Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling program. 

“I’ve had difficulties finding counselors who look like me and represent me and understand my experiences — especially as an immigrant,” she said. “I hope to be one of those therapists who young people can talk to about the issues they may not be able to talk about at home.” 

Boundless Bulls is a collection of stories about what truly makes USF great — the people. It is a focus on our community footprint, our impact and the trajectory of where we can go together. To nominate a member of the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus community for Boundless Bulls, please fill out the submission form.

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