Resiliency Training Improves College Students’ Mental Health
A new Yale study finds that when college students learn specific techniques for managing stress and anxiety, their wellbeing improves across a range of measures and leads to stronger mental health.
The researchers looked at three classroom-based wellness training programs that incorporated breathing and emotional intelligence strategies. They found that two programs led to improvements in aspects of wellbeing with the most effective program leading to improvements in six areas, including depression and social connectedness.
The findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, show that resiliency training programs could be a valuable tool for addressing the mental health crisis on university campuses.
“In addition to academic skills, we need to teach students how to live a balanced life,” said Emma Seppälä, lead author and faculty director of the Women’s Leadership Program at Yale School of Management. “Student mental health has been on the decline over the last 10 years, and with the pandemic and racial tensions, things have only gotten worse.”
For the study, a research team from the Yale Child Study Center and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (YCEI) tested three skill-building training programs on 135 undergraduate students for eight weeks (30 hours total), and measured results against those of a non-intervention control group.
They discovered that a training program called SKY Campus Happiness, developed by the Art of Living Foundation, which incorporates a breathing technique called SKY Breath Meditation, yoga postures, social connection, and service activities, was most beneficial. Following the SKY sessions, participants reported improvements in six areas of wellbeing: depression, stress, mental health, mindfulness, positive affect, and social connectedness.
A second program called Foundations of Emotional Intelligence, developed by the YCEI, resulted in one improvement: greater mindfulness — the ability for students to be present and enjoy the moment.
A third program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, which relies heavily on mindfulness techniques, resulted in no reported improvements.
Overall, 135 Yale undergraduate students participated in the study. Across college campuses, there has been a significant rise in student depression, anxiety, and demand for mental health services. From 2009 to 2014, students seeking treatment from campus counseling centers rose by 30%, though enrollment increased by just 6% on average. In addition, 57% of counseling center directors indicated that their resources are insufficient to meet students’ needs.
The researchers say resiliency training tools can address the overburdening of campus counseling centers directly.
“Students learn tools they can use for the rest of their lives to continue to improve and maintain their mental health,” said co-first author Christina Bradley ’16 B.S., currently a Ph.D. student at University of Michigan.
Although the researchers administered the training sessions in person, the courses can also be taken remotely.
“Continually adding staff to counseling and psychiatric services to meet demand is not financially sustainable — and universities are realizing this,” Seppälä said. “Evidence-based resiliency programs can help students help themselves.”
Davornne Lindo ’22 B.A., a member of the Yale track team who participated in the SKY Campus Happiness program, said practicing breathing techniques helped her to manage stress from both academics and athletics.
“Now that I have these techniques to help me, I would say that my mentality is a lot healthier,” Lindo said. “I can devote time to studying and not melting down. Races have gone better. Times are dropping.”
Source: Yale University
Pedersen, T. (2020). Resiliency Training Improves College Students’ Mental Health. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/08/14/resiliency-training-improves-college-students-mental-health/158542.html