College Students Benefit from Wellness Training
Demand for mental health services at college counseling centers has been on the rise in recent years. Stress, anxiety and depression are the most common mental health issues among students seeking help. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a greater mental health impact on young adults than other age groups. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that among young adults 18 to 24, 75% reported experiencing at least one adverse mental health symptom and 25% had considered suicide in the past 30 days.
A new study examines the potential of a proactive, preventative approach to building resilience and promoting psychological thriving in students before they experience mental health symptoms. Researchers at Yale looked at three resiliency training programs designed to help students manage stress and anxiety and improve mental well-being. They found two of the three led to improvements in mental well-being.
In a randomized controlled trial involving 131 students, researchers compared three prevention intervention programs (SKY Campus Happiness, Foundations of Emotional Intelligence, and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) and a non-intervention control. They looked at a range of different measures across the spectrum of mental health from mental illness to psychological thriving, including:
- Mental health: burnout, stress, distress, anxiety and depression.
- Psychological thriving: psychological well-being, life satisfaction, positive and negative affect (experiencing positive or negative emotions), gratitude, self-compassion, mindfulness, adaptive and maladaptive coping, optimism, self-esteem, social connectedness
- Physical health and sleep
All three programs focused on skill-building and wellness and provided students with 30-hours of training over eight weeks. Of the three interventions, SKY Campus Happiness had the most positive impact on student well-being with benefits in six areas, according to the study.
The SKY program provides tools for psychological resilience and stress management, including yoga postures, breathing exercises, meditation, and training in positive psychological skills, such as gratitude and social connection. It also includes training in leadership skills and community service.
The Emotional Intelligence program, which focuses on knowledge of emotions and emotion regulation, benefited one outcome—mindfulness. The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program showed no change. The majority of students in all three programs said they would recommend the intervention to their friends.
The authors conclude that delivering the SKY Campus Happiness or Emotional Intelligence program to university students “may be a cost-effective and efficient way to proactively and preventatively address mental health for university students and reduce the financial strain on universities.”
- Seppälä, EM , Bradley, C., Julia Moeller, J., et al. Promoting Mental Health and Psychological Thriving in University Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Three Well-Being Interventions. Front. Psychiatry, 15 July 2020. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00590
- Belli, B.,Sung,J. To improve students’ mental health, Yale study finds, teach them to breathe. Yale News, July 27, 2020.