Our study, Resilience and Coping in College, aims to institute and contrast the efficacy of three mental health interventions on freshman students at the University of Pennsylvania. Notably, demands on college students, especially at a top-tier university, are overwhelming. Insufficient high school mental health education creates individuals unprepared to deal with a heightened stress burden. Interventions are: positive coping, a skill-training course based in clinical therapy and positive psychology; MBSR, a combination of mindfulness and yoga; an animal support group, emphasizing social connection and disinhibition.
Existing findings note that such interventions are beneficial to the wider student populace. Freshmen in this study, however, did not benefit on most outcome measures. Our findings indicate that freshmen may not find skill-based interventions accessible, as they have yet to belong. Additional skill building may be viewed as unnecessary work when a sense of community is lacking. Thus, the normalization of freshman distress and the ability to connect with similar others appears to trump the more cerebral content heavy intervention format.
Personally, this study underscores the purpose of scientific exploration. Our work is not to validate our findings, to prove our interventions effective in every context. Instead, we hope to elucidate what is truly occurring. I learned the distinctness of a freshman demographic. I learned how to best help them, even if such work is disparate with the larger student demographic.
As such, this work has not only facilitated my identity as an academic, but pushed my ability to maintain objectivity, to counter my biases as a researcher. Indeed, I am continuously learning humility and skepticism. This work is work that impacts both who I am as a researcher, but also who I am as a human. I am incredibly grateful to have gained so much insight into myself and others.