A Mental Health U-Turn
New Course Teaches Coping Skills to Stressed-Out Students
By Sala Levin '10
Illustration via iStock
Even the most easygoing college student can carry an overstuffed backpack of stressors: challenging classes, increased self-reliance and responsibility, and the ever-looming prospect of finding a job or getting into graduate school.
A one-of-a-kind new class, “U SAD?: Coping with Stress, Anxiety and Depression,” is training Terps to manage their mental health—and, hopefully, use their skills to help others in need.
“We created this from scratch, based off our collective clinical experiences as therapists, knowing the common issues that college students face and knowing what’s necessary to address it,” says Amy Morgan, assistant professor of couple and family therapy in the School of Public Health’s Department of Family Science.
Studies have confirmed that college students are experiencing severe levels of mental health issues; a national survey found that more than 60% of undergraduates met the 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 2023 semester. Each section quickly reached its 30-person capacity, with more students registering for the waitlist. The students came from a range of majors—computer science, economics, aerospace engineering and journalism among them.
“There have definitely been a lot of chances for unique (instances) of vulnerability and people sharing their lives,” says Nicole Gerber M.S. ’24, a graduate assistant for the course.
Topics include people’s personal methods for coping with pressure and stressors that students have faced during college.
“This is not a textbook or lecture class at all; it’s a skills group and a class met in the middle,” says Morgan. Students learn skills like active listening, using meditation and mindfulness to lessen stress, and determining between healthy coping skills like painting or walking and unhealthy ones, like substance use or excessive Netflixing.
One mindful habit Dulce Ortiz ’26 picked up is journaling. “For me, it’s difficult to open up to a person about how I feel. It’s not in my nature,” she says. “I’ve been journaling, and I write my emotions and experiences of the day in a cute little journal. It’s been helping me a lot.”
Ortiz initially thought the emotional nature of the course was “maybe not my thing,” the criminology and criminal justice major says. But she appreciated exchanging tips on what worked to help someone through a dark time, or hearing how a classmate had handled a situation Ortiz herself had been in too.
Morgan says the popularity of the course speaks to its necessity—as do the inquiries from media outlets and other universities she’s received about it.
“That is my intention: to think about how to make this framework accessible so it’s not just offered here at the university.”
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