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With student stress and mental health concerns at the forefront these past few years, campus counseling resources have been stretched to their max. Nearly half of institutions (at least according to an Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors member survey) have found the need to limit offered one-on-one sessions with counselors.
The University of Maryland is one such institution—but officials hope that a new course will provide students with tools to help manage negative emotions associated with stress, anxiety and depression on their own.
The “remedy”: Developed with grant funding from the university’s Teaching and Learning Transformation Center, the one-credit course is called U SAD? Coping With Stress, Anxiety and Depression. Students meet once a week for half of the semester, allowing them the opportunity to join after midterms as courses get more difficult or as problems manifest. Each class provides students a few basic therapeutic skills, like signs to identify anxiety or time-management tools, to help them regulate emotions as stressors arise.
Study: Teaching Problem-Solving Helps
A July 2022 research article from San Francisco State University found courses that teach problem-solving result in improved academic performance and other positive outcomes. Some specific study results:
- Students who successfully completed a course with problem-solving lectures and assignments achieved higher cumulative GPAs than their peers, as high as three percentage points greater.
- Students from historically “at-risk populations”—such as underrepresented minority, first-generation or Pell Grant–eligible students—significantly benefited with higher GPAs, units earned and retention and graduation rates.
What classes look like: The course operates without textbooks or lectures. Students watch videos or read articles and then engage in a class discussion or activity. The only assignments are written reflections based on learned skills.
Course limitations: U SAD? is not meant to be replacement for therapy or counseling. Rather than viewing the course as a group counseling session or a place to “trauma dump,” students are encouraged see it as an opportunity to add tools to their own mental health tool kits.
Maryland faculty created the course from scratch because they could not find comparable models at other universities, designing their own content, class activities, plans and guidelines, explains Amy Morgan, assistant professor at the couples’ and family therapy master’s program.
What’s under evaluation: The course launched this spring, so instructors at Maryland have yet to see the curriculum’s effects on students. Morgan and her colleagues plan to collect data during the semester and write an article for journal submission on the development, implementation and improvement of the course.
DIY: For schools looking to model U SAD?, Morgan recommends using existing resources at the school, like working alongside faculty or staff who are mental health practitioners. She also suggests keeping the course small so students can engage in discussion and limiting the credit offering so course material is not overwhelming.
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