Students’ mental health can be improved through breathing, Yale study finds

Life altering decisions, financial responsibilities, moving away from home, are just a few examples of what could cause mental health issues in students

In 2018, American College Health Association surveyed 88,178 college students across 140 campuses. It was found that 60 per cent of students self-reported experiencing overwhelming anxiety and 40 per cent self-reported feeling so depressed they had difficulty functioning. Students have to deal with new situations and environments as soon as they graduate high school. Life altering decisions, financial responsibilities, moving away from home, are just a few examples of what could cause mental and emotional distress. Additionally, it is not only the absence of mental issues that is necessary, but also the presence of psychological thriving —  gratitude, social connectedness, mindfulness, etc.

Recently, a study was conducted by researchers at the Yale Child Study Center and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (YCEI), aimed at using different wellness programs to alleviate mental health problems and promote well-being. They evaluated three classroom-based wellness training programmes involving breathing techniques and emotional intelligence strategies. Lead author and faculty director of the Women’s Leadership Program at Yale School of Management Emma Seppälä was quoted as saying by Yale News: “In addition to academic skills, we need to teach students how to live a balanced life.”

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The study involved coaching 135 Yale undergraduate students on one of three 30-hour, eight-week semester-long well-being programs. The first program was the SKY Campus Happiness (SKY), which has been shown to improve psychological resilience and decrease stress in students. It is based on a breathing technique called SKY Breath Meditation, yoga postures and social connections etc. The second program called the Foundations of Emotional Intelligence (EI), was developed by the YCEI. It has been previously shown to improve emotional skills, cooperation and even academic grades. The third program was the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MSBR), an eight week mindfulness based intervention.

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In all, the SKY group benefited six outcomes in students: depression, stress, mental health, positive affect, mindfulness, and social connectedness; the EI group benefited one outcome: mindfulness; and the MBSR benefited none. The importance of recognising and treating mental health issues is ever increasing. Therapy and medication are significant in doing so, however these come with their fair share of problems. Such measures take place once the problem is established and symptoms start appearing. But, training students in wellness strategies can be helpful in preventing such issues before they even arise. Such programs help students learn key skills like mindfulness, gratitude, empathy and also reduce the effects of anxiety and depression.

The findings of the research made it to the July 15 edition of Frontiers in Psychiatry.

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