Students of the innovative course reported significantly improved mental health and prosperity

Students climbing a red and white ladder

A new study from the UW-Madison Center for Healthy Minds and collaborators shows that coursework can lead to positive outcomes in students’ mental health. Photo: Althea Dotzour

The transitional pressure of starting college can challenge the mental health of young adults. By being rushed into unfamiliar social situations and new home environments, students face increased academic pressure and the responsibility of making important life decisions for the first time. Lay a layer on the ongoing pressures of the global pandemic, racist violence, and war, and it’s no surprise that there is a mental health crisis on many college campuses.

To help combat this crisis, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Healthy Minds Center He contributed to the design of Innovative course that provide students with evidence-based tools to protect and improve their mental health.

promising new results Recently published in the magazine Full concentration of the mind It found that students who took the course reported a significant improvement in mental health upon completion. Notably, the prevalence of clinical depression among the participating students was reduced by almost half, and severe depression decreased by two-thirds. There were no changes in these measures for the control participants. At the same time, students on the course report significant gains in prosperity — deep satisfaction, flexibility, achievement, and purpose. These results suggest a scalable, systematic approach to promoting prosperity in college students.

“These results are particularly encouraging because they indicate that the course was as beneficial for students with more severe depressive symptoms, even severe symptoms, as it was for students with symptoms in the standard range,” he says. Matt Hirschberg, lead author of the study. “Thus, these data at least indicate the potential usefulness of this course as a global preventive strategy for new college students.”

Beginning in 2016, an interdisciplinary team of scholars from UW-Madison, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Virginia set out to develop a credit course that could become a general education requirement similar to courses such as composition or calculus required for first-year students at many universities. .

Produce this effort art and human science thriving (ASHF) Of course. The curriculum blends intellectual rigor that investigates sources of deep satisfaction, resilience, achievement, and purpose with experiential classroom learning in awareness, communication, and other meditation techniques that directly support prosperity.

Primarily first-year students at UW-Madison, PSU, and UVA enrolled in the course in 2018 and 2019, in a two-wave, identical controlled trial. The researchers surveyed the students before the course began and again upon completion of a range of factors, including attention, development of social and emotional skills, burgeoning perspectives, mental health, health, and risk behavior outcomes.

The course is structured around five themes: Foundations of Thriving (the science of personal transformation), Awareness (the importance of emotion, focus and alertness), Communication (the qualities of empathy and belonging), Insight (formulating an individual vision and a plan for prosperity.) and Integration (taking it all together). The course includes readings, lectures, written meditations, large and small group exercises, meditation ‘labs’, seminars and practice at home.

intellectual basis The course is rooted in pioneering reflective neuroscience at the UW Center for Healthy Minds.

This method helps students achieve a fully integrated understanding as well as an individual roadmap to thriving during and after the course. The research team hopes that the course as a first-year general requirement will make waves in mental health support for students nationally and globally.

“We aim to support students in seeing themselves and their lives as precious and as something they can begin to think about and take active steps to shape in healthy and positive ways during their college years,” Robert Rosserprofessor of human development and family studies at Penn State and leader of the comprehensive study.

The research results support this hope. In addition to reporting fewer symptoms of clinical depression, participating students reported significantly improved mental health and prosperity, improved attention and self-compassion and an increase in positive social attitudes such as empathic anxiety and shared humanity compared to control participants.

The researchers note that many important questions remain. For example, there was no evidence that training affects health or risky behaviors such as sleep quality or alcohol use, which may indicate that these outcomes take longer to change, or that they are not affected by the course.

The researchers are currently analyzing additional data collected during the COVID-19 pandemic to get more insights into the trajectory’s effects during the first two years of that turbulent period. At a time when rates of mental health concerns are at historical levels among teens, the study offers hope that university curricula can help support mental well-being among students.

Richard DavidsonD., professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, founder of the Center for Healthy Minds and co-author of the report, says he hopes that “in the near future, every student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will have the opportunity to take this course.”

This work was supported by generous individual donations to the Center for Healthy Minds, a National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation 2019 Postdoctoral Fellowship (Matthew Hirschberg), the Bennett Pierce Chair in Care and Compassion (Robert Roser) and the Center for Contemplative Science at the University of Virginia.

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