Even the easiest college student can carry a backpack overflowing with stressors: challenging classes, increased self-reliance and responsibility, and the ever-closer prospect of finding a job or entering graduate school.
A one-of-a-kind new class, “U SAD?: Coping with Stress, Anxiety and Depression,” is training Terps to manage their own mental health — and, hopefully, use their skills to help others In need.
“We created this from the ground up based on our collective clinical experience as therapists, knowing the common problems college students face and knowing what it takes to address them,” says Amy Morgan, assistant professor of couple and family therapy in the School of Public Health. Department of Family Sciences.
Studies have confirmed that college students are experiencing severe levels of mental health problems; a national study found that more than 60% of graduating students met criteria for at least one mental health problem in the 2020-21 school year.
The seven-week, one-credit course, funded through a University Teaching and Learning Innovation Grant, was offered twice during the spring semester. Each section quickly reached its 30-person capacity, with more students signing up for the waiting list. The students came from a variety of fields – computer science, economics, aerospace engineering and journalism among them.
The course is also part of SPH’s Campus and Community Leaders in Mental Health (CCLiMH), an initiative in which students can earn microcredentials in mental health first aid.
“There’s definitely been a lot of opportunities for unique (instances of) vulnerability and people sharing their lives,” says Nicole Gerber MS ’24, graduate assistant for the course. Topics include people’s personal methods of coping with the pressure and stressors students have faced during college.
“This is not a lesson or a lecture at all; it’s a skill set and a classroom met in the middle,” says Morgan. Students learned skills like active listening, using meditation and mindfulness to reduce stress, and distinguishing between healthy coping skills like painting or walking and unhealthy ones like substance use or binge Netflixing.
One mindful habit Ortiz has picked up is journaling. “For me, it’s hard to open up to a person about how I feel. It’s not in my nature,” she says. “I journaled and write down my emotions and experiences of the day in a cute little journal. It has helped me a lot.”
At the start of her inaugural semester, Dulce Ortiz ’26 thought the emotional nature of the course was “probably not my thing,” says the criminology and criminal justice major. But she appreciated sharing advice on what worked to help someone through a dark time, or hearing how a classmate had handled a situation Ortiz herself had been in.
Morgan says the course’s popularity speaks to its necessity — as do the inquiries from the media and other universities she’s received about it. “People are trying to do something similar, but they don’t have the framework to do it,” she says. “That’s our goal: to think about how to make this framework accessible, so that it’s not just offered here at the university.”
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