How and why colleges are incorporating mental health into the curriculum

Daily Briefing

How and why colleges are incorporating mental health into the curriculum

The demand for mental health services on campus is higher than ever. In 2016, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the number of students seeking mental health services was growing five times faster than enrollment.

Colleges have struggled to expand counseling services quickly enough to keep up with the explosion of demand, leading some institutions to begin experimenting with preventative measures. These preventative measures often include incorporating mental health and wellness into the curriculum, reports Terry Nguyen for The Chronicle.

Colleges hope that a more holistic approach to wellness will teach students to recognize mental health awareness as a serious academic issue and a skill they can use long after graduation, writes Nguyen.

For example, the University of Southern California (USC) offers a one-credit, ungraded course about the basics of well-being. The course meets twice a week, once for a lecture and again for smaller group discussions called “connection sessions.” In the sessions, students are not only encouraged to assess their own well-being, but also asked to reflect on abstract concepts like success and happiness.

For instance, students might reflect on existential questions such as, “What does success mean to you? What about happiness? How do you live your best life?”

“It’s a form of self-processing,” says Ashley Uyeshiro Simon, an associate professor of clinical occupational therapy at USC who helped develop the course. She hopes that through the course, students recognize that mental health and wellness are life skills that extend beyond the classroom and into their careers. “It can’t be a one-and-done kind of deal,” says Uyeshiro Simon.

It’s a form of self-processing. It can’t be a one-and-done kind of deal.

Ashley Uyeshiro Simon, associate professor of clinical occupational therapy at University of Southern California

Students report that the course has provided them with both personal guidance and clarity. “Just that one lecture on success really helped me determine more of my career path,” says Blake Ackerman, Vice President of the Student Government. He explains that after reflecting on the meaning of success, he decided to add a minor in social entrepreneurship to his business studies.

Plus, 93% of students enrolled in the course last semester reported that the course not only allowed them to think about life in a new way, but also drew them closer to their peers, reports Nguyen.

93%

of students reported that the course both allowed them to think about life in a new way and drew them closer to their peers
of students reported that the course both allowed them to think about life in a new way and drew them closer to their peers

Other institutions are taking a holistic approach to mental health by incorporating mental health training into students’ on-campus living experience, writes Nguyen.

For example, the University of Dayton has added an optional, online mental health curriculum that teaches students to recognize signs of emotional distress. Students who choose to participate in the module can earn points that count towards the campus residential program. The more points students earn, the greater the odds that students are able to select their housing the following year. This way, students are encouraged to participate in the program throughout their time on campus.

The goal of Dayton’s training module is to build “a culture of care,” says Sarah DeWitt, the university’s Coordinator of Health Education and Wellness Promotion. While many colleges ask new students to complete a short online module about mental health, Dayton’s program is unusual because students can retake it whenever necessary. After all, mental health awareness isn’t a skill learned once, says DeWitt (Nguyen, Chronicle of Higher Education, 2/26).

Learn more about student mental health

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