Encourage more universities to adopt well-being courses
According to , Yale University has recently begun offering a class titled “Psychology and the Good Life,” and nearly 1,200 students — almost one quarter of the school’s undergraduate population — have enrolled in the course, making it the most popular in the 316-year history of the school. The course is intended to teach students how to live happier, more satisfying lives through bi-weekly lectures. According to Professor Laurie Santos, “students want to change, to be happier themselves, and to change the culture here on campus.” Santos also reflects on the fact that, for some students, this may be the first time that they are actually putting their own mental health and happiness at the forefront. They may have spent much of their high school careers working to obtain the grades needed to attain a spot in Yale and unfortunately may have built self-destructive habits. The same New York Times article cites the school’s director of Undergraduate Studies in Psychology, Woo-Kyoung Ahn, who said that she was “blown away” by the proposal for the class, despite the fact that such a course has long been requested. This response speaks volumes to a problem that exists across college campuses.
According to , a 2009 survey from the American Health Association-National Health Assessment showed that 39 percent of college students feel hopeless during the school year, 25 percent will feel so depressed that they will find it hard to function and 84 percent will feel overwhelmed by all that they have to do. It is partly for this reason that colleges offer counseling services; however, these services are not always accessible to the students who need them. detailed an interview with a Georgetown University student, Benjamin Johnson, who revealed that many students were either unaware of the existence of the university's counseling center or just chose not to use it because of the stigma surrounding receiving treatment. In addition, Georgetown requires that students pay for appointments with the counseling center. This presents a two-fold problem: It is inconvenient for students who do not have the financial means to pay for therapy and, while some students may be able to ask their families for money, it eliminates their ability to be self-reliant or keep their medical details private. Not everyone comes from a home where issues like mental health are discussed, and universities should not force students to disclose certain information unless their lives are in immediate danger.
A class such as the one offered at Yale would be useful for instances like this because students will not only receive useful information about managing stress or self-care, but there will also be less opportunity to generate stigma. Currently, over 1,000 students are registered for the class, causing it to have been moved to a symphony hall rather than a typical lecture hall. Since there are so many students, it is virtually impossible to tell who is enrolled in the course out of sheer interest or with the intent of bettering themselves, as students are not outing themselves the same way that they would by visiting the counseling center.
This is not to say that a bi-weekly lecture can replace one-on-one counseling sessions with a trained professional, but it is certainly a step above students leaving the state of their mental health unaddressed. According to the same New York Times article, the class will also consist of weekly assignments challenging students to perform small acts of kindness or make new social connections. has proved that peer interactions have been shown to help students cope with academic stress. It states, “Adequate support may intervene between the experience of stress and the onset of the pathological outcome by reducing or eliminating the stress reaction.” Students are being encouraged to branch out and make, possibly, meaningful connections with others around them, thus providing the opportunity to build a larger support network.
This course, or one like it, is something that should be implemented in other schools. According to , more than 75 percent of mental health conditions begin before the age of 24, making it critical that students maintain a healthy mental state during their college years. Just as institutions stress the importance of grades and other manifestations of “success,” they should also stress the importance of self-care and ensure that their students are actually in good physical and mental health.