08:25 AM

MINDSTRONG program helps students tackle stress and anxiety

A dinner with the dean helped Taylor Schwein find a way to tackle stress and anxiety in her student life, and now she wants her peers to join her on a similar journey.

Schwein, a third-year nursing major at The Ohio State University, was a first-year student when she attended a class dinner with College of Nursing Dean Bernadette Melnyk. Melnyk, the university’s chief wellness officer, went around the room asking Schwein and her classmates to rate their level of stress on a scale from one to 10.

“Everyone had a high level of stress,” Schwein said.

Melnyk offered a solution: MINDSTRONG. Melnyk developed the program to support mental health and overall well-being. Now it’s being offered as a class in the new academic year.

The MINDSTRONG program is a seven-week cognitive-behavioral skills-building program that promotes and supports mental health and mental resiliency,” said Jacqueline Hoying, director of MINDSTRONG. “We know that it’s evidence-based. We’ve performed 17 research studies on it, and in all of the studies, we find the same things. We have a reduction in stress, depression and anxiety.”

Although the College of Nursing hosts the program, the course is offered to undergraduate or graduate students across the university. Two classes are available in autumn semester with about 25 students per class.

“Students are going to get the benefit of the full program after these seven weeks,” Melnyk said. “It’s important to put the content and the knowledge into daily practice to really get the positive outcomes from the program.”

The program features weekly sessions to improve overall mental health and help people taking the class manage stress, anxiety and depression. Each session provides strategies to practice establishing healthier behavior patterns.

“The first thing that they teach is the thinking, feeling, behaving triangle and it goes through the process of how you think affects how you feel and how you behave,” Schwein said. “They teach you to flip your perspective and look at it through a different lens. So, if you're looking at a negative activity, it’s going to cause you to feel poorly. But if you could just think of it in a positive frame and look for how you can improve it, you’re going to feel better and do better.”

The skills developed in the classroom are part of a toolkit students can take with them beyond college.

“So if you learn some of those techniques and you learn how to handle anxiety, it not only helps you with the class that you’re in this particular semester, but it paves the way for you throughout life,” Hoying said. “I think it’s helpful, it’s beneficial, it’s a lifelong skillset.”

Schwein agreed.

“I think what separates MINDSTRONG from a lot of other resources at Ohio State and beyond is that it sets you up with skills that you can use for a lifetime,” she said. “So now if I have moments of anxiety or stress, I can look back on the tools I learned from Mindstrong and use those.”

The course fits into the university’s overall commitment to improving student well-being and mental health. Hoying said the transition from high school to college or from undergrad studies to graduate school is a stressful time for many students.

“Research shows us that mental health is a national priority. The World Health Organization predicts by the year 2030 mental health disorders will have overtaken physical illness – that includes things like diabetes, obesity and cancer,” she said. “I think that’s staggering.”

The program can be expanded to meet demand. For now, Hoying is excited for the new academic year to begin and for a new class of students to experience MINDSTRONG.

“For me, it’s been a personal dream to get to this point,” she said. “I know how well this program works and I’m excited to bring it to other people, especially college-age students. I wish it were something that I would have been afforded coming into college because it would have made just such an amazing difference.”

For help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255/TALK (or 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish speakers). To reach someone at Ohio’s 24/7 Crisis Text Line, send 4HOPE to 741741.