You might have run across the article earlier this year about the class at Yale University that has attracted 1,200 students. Yes that’s right, 1,200 students – including 24 teaching assistants. The people in the cheap seats in the back, really are in the cheap seats.
The name of the course is Psych 157, Psychology and the Good Life. The objective is to teach students how to lead a happier, more satisfying life. Students are expected to perform “rewirement” assignments like acts of kindness or establishing new social connections.
On the one hand this sounds like the ‘gut’ course of all time, similar to ‘Rocks for Jocks’ in the Geology Department when I was in school. On the other hand it is serious stuff. Life issues and stress are more and more prevalent on College campuses today. A 2013 report at Yale found that more than half of all undergraduate students had sought mental health treatment during their time at the University. The numbers at the bottom speak to the college mental health explosion.
So the question is, are younger people today any different than young people 20 or 30 years ago and if so what’s the solution? It’s not hard to see where the pressure is coming from for young people Those students who have college debt are looking at re-paying an average of $30,000 to $35,000 starting six months average graduation. This is a lot of money. Getting the right major which will get you the right job at a solid salary is stressful.
In addition, some doctors feel the healthcare system is ‘over diagnosing’ many ailments. To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail, so to speak. If your specialty is ADHD and depression you are likely to see it in a lot of places, maybe too many places. A better solution might be emphasizing behavioral changes such as Yoga, meditation and exercise.
And finally there is the new theory that this generation of young people is really different. This is the generation born after 1997 that some are naming the iGen, raised since birth on the Smartphone and Social Media. Some Psychologists say this is leading to a more alienated group, less comfortable with face to face contact, and more comfortable with ‘scripting’ their lives on Instagram and Facebook. Less face to face contact may lead to more depression.
So what is the answer? I am smart enough to know that I don’t really know. But from my experience teaching 60 Undergraduates at the University of Vermont each semester I don’t find students today any more “abnormal” than generations past. I will be the optimist here and root for this current crop of intelligent and hopefully, successful group of young people.