Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Faculty Mentor’s Full Name

Dr. John Sommers-Flanagan

Category

Social Sciences/Humanities

Abstract/Artist Statement

Poor mental health is a growing problem among youth in schools. More than one in three high school students report experiencing persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness and one in six youth report making a suicide plan in the past year (Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2019). The COVID19 pandemic has only exacerbated mental health challenges in youth; with emergency rooms reporting a 30% increase in pediatric suicide attempts beginning in 2020 (CDC, 2021). Now more than ever, mental health support and preventative efforts are needed to bolster positive mental health and prevent mental health crises.

Positive Psychology, the study of what makes life living (Peterson, 2008) offers a helpful framework to understand and improve mental health and well-being during times of turbulence and stress. Positive Psychology’s emphasis on highlighting one’s strengths instead of weaknesses and building the good life naturally align with the role of a strength-based school counselor.

The focus of the presentation is to highlight the work graduate students in The Department of Counseling have been doing with the Montana Happiness Project. Roughly 40% of happiness is within the control of individuals based on their actions and behaviors (Lyubomirsky, 2005). With this as a guide, we have created a psychoeducational curriculum which teaches students about the art and science behind happiness as well as how to utilize different strategies/activities to improve their overall well-being. 45–60-minute lessons were run with all ninth and tenth grade students at a local high school through student’s Health and PE courses. Preliminary data was collected on how likely students felt they would be to continue utilizing happiness strategies. This curriculum can be adapted for all grade levels and used by professionals in multiples roles within schools (teachers, counselors, school psychologists, after-school programs, etc).

Additionally, we identified students who would benefit from small groups focusing on utilizing happiness strategies. Students were identified by teachers, administrators, and counselors, and were pulled for 1.5 hour groups/week for five weeks. We gathered data on overall levels of happiness before and after participation in the group and intend to follow-up to see if improvements are maintained two months after the group has concluded. Results will be presented.

This curriculum and small group plan were developed in conjunction with The Montana Happiness Project which aims to improve the overall well-being of all Montanans. These plans will be distributed to any school professional who wants to utilize them. We believe this project will be a positive contribution to students all over the state of Montana.

Mentor Name

Dr. John Sommers-Flanagan

Personal Statement

For much of its history, psychology has focused on asking the question, “What’s wrong with you?” Certainly, this research question and the answers psychologists have developed over have helped innumerable individuals suffering from mental illness and distress through many different types of therapies. However, despite all these advances, many in society, especially our youth, report high levels of stress, depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Positive psychology asks the question, “What’s right with you?” I firmly believe that mental health is not only for those who can be diagnosed with a mental illness. As a counselor I believe that everyone can improve upon their mental health and well-being with effort and intention. This is even more important given that the stress of a global pandemic does not appear to be letting up. Additionally, the continued stress of judgement from social media has individuals constantly overthinking their every move. I believe taking a strengths-based approach to help individuals identify a meaning behind their life, helping them to identify what makes a well-lived life will reduce overall rates of distress and improve mental health. Over the past year, I have been an intern both at a local high school and for a local agency, Families First. Within this work, I aim to help my clients and students identify their strengths and utilize evidence-based strategies for increased happiness and overall well-being. Developing this curriculum and running these groups has brought me great joy in my direct work with clients (incarcerated parents) and students. I live, work, and am raising a family within this community and I want to contribute positively to those around me, it is why I entered the counseling profession to begin with. I am incredibly proud that I am creating something which can be disseminated for free across my state so that everyone in my community might benefit. I will be graduating this spring, but I intend to continue my work with The Montana Happiness Project in multiple ways, because I believe it can improve the lives of my fellow citizens.

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Mar 4th, 11:40 AM Mar 4th, 11:55 AM

Happy schools: Examining a psychoeducational curriculum and small group intervention for high school students

UC 332

Poor mental health is a growing problem among youth in schools. More than one in three high school students report experiencing persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness and one in six youth report making a suicide plan in the past year (Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2019). The COVID19 pandemic has only exacerbated mental health challenges in youth; with emergency rooms reporting a 30% increase in pediatric suicide attempts beginning in 2020 (CDC, 2021). Now more than ever, mental health support and preventative efforts are needed to bolster positive mental health and prevent mental health crises.

Positive Psychology, the study of what makes life living (Peterson, 2008) offers a helpful framework to understand and improve mental health and well-being during times of turbulence and stress. Positive Psychology’s emphasis on highlighting one’s strengths instead of weaknesses and building the good life naturally align with the role of a strength-based school counselor.

The focus of the presentation is to highlight the work graduate students in The Department of Counseling have been doing with the Montana Happiness Project. Roughly 40% of happiness is within the control of individuals based on their actions and behaviors (Lyubomirsky, 2005). With this as a guide, we have created a psychoeducational curriculum which teaches students about the art and science behind happiness as well as how to utilize different strategies/activities to improve their overall well-being. 45–60-minute lessons were run with all ninth and tenth grade students at a local high school through student’s Health and PE courses. Preliminary data was collected on how likely students felt they would be to continue utilizing happiness strategies. This curriculum can be adapted for all grade levels and used by professionals in multiples roles within schools (teachers, counselors, school psychologists, after-school programs, etc).

Additionally, we identified students who would benefit from small groups focusing on utilizing happiness strategies. Students were identified by teachers, administrators, and counselors, and were pulled for 1.5 hour groups/week for five weeks. We gathered data on overall levels of happiness before and after participation in the group and intend to follow-up to see if improvements are maintained two months after the group has concluded. Results will be presented.

This curriculum and small group plan were developed in conjunction with The Montana Happiness Project which aims to improve the overall well-being of all Montanans. These plans will be distributed to any school professional who wants to utilize them. We believe this project will be a positive contribution to students all over the state of Montana.