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Campus & Community

A Mental Health U-Turn

New Course Teaches Stressed-Out Students Coping Skills

By Sala Levin ’10

woman watering flowers above her head

A new one-credit course is designed to give students the tools they need to manage anxiety, stress and depression—and to turn what they've learned outward to help peers in need.

Illustration by Shutterstock

Even the most easygoing college students 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-its-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 really based off our collective clinical experience as therapists, knowing the common issues that college students face and knowing what’s necessary to address them,” 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; one 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 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.

The course is also part of SPH’s Campus and Community Leaders in Mental Health (CCLiMH), an initiative in which students can earn micro-credentials in mental health first aid.

“There have definitely been a lot of chances for unique (instances) of vulnerability and people sharing their lives,” says Nicole Gerber M.S. ’24, 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 learned 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.”

At the beginning of the inaugural semester, Ortiz 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 that the popularity of the course speaks to its necessity—as do the inquiries from media outlets and other universities she’s received about it. “People are trying to do something similar but don’t have the framework to do so,” she says. “That is our intention: to think about how to make this framework accessible so it’s not just offered here at the university.”

Schools & Departments:

School of Public Health

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