Whether it’s diagnosing an ailment, preventing it, or alleviating its symptoms, conversations about health often center around illness. The same can be said about mental health.
“The concept of mental health is a euphemism,” explains Tiffiny Hughes-Troutman, a professor of practice in the School of Psychology and a licensed psychologist. “Often people use the term ‘mental health’ as a catch-all phrase when they're really talking about mental illness. But mental illness and mental health are actually discrete and dichotomous terms. Good health is indicated by positive emotions and productive functioning, not just the absence of illness.”
With a new minor in the Science of Mental Health and Well-Being in the School of Psychology, Hughes-Troutman is hoping to balance the conversation. Launching this fall, the minor will work to give students practical tools to build mental wellness and gain the ability to conceptualize mental health, well-being, and other constructs firmly grounded in neuroscience.
“It’s critical that we create a psychologically safe atmosphere in the classroom, the lab, and other spaces so that students have opportunities to connect with others and build resilience and other key skills,” says Hughes-Troutman. “I view this new minor as a really great opportunity not only to infuse content about health and well-being into the curriculum for students, but also, it’s a pivotal step that students can take to foster a greater sense of health and well-being for themselves. Through this minor, we aim to help students cope with pressures and stress, and ensure that they understand the relation between increased well-being, higher productivity, enhanced learning, and a stronger sense of connectedness and purpose.”
“As we aim to instill students with a wide range of fundamental knowledge and skills that can benefit them throughout their lives,” says Tansu Celikel, professor and chair in the School of Psychology, “this minor will be of interest to all students across the Institute.”
Exploring the link between brain, behavior, and mental health and well-being
Cultivating well-being is a key component of Georgia Tech’s strategic plan. With courses like Flourishing: Strategies for Well-Being and Resilience (APPH 1060) and Resilience Building Strategies 4801/8801, bringing wellness into the curriculum has been a vital step toward that goal across the Institute.
“We have excellent courses that span topics fundamental to human well-being offered on campus, and this new minor gives students another option on a rich menu,” said Hughes-Troutman. “Unique elements of this minor include a focus on the distinct psychological processes and neural mechanisms of well-being. Psychological science plays a distinct role in improving the human condition for individuals and communities on many levels; students who take our courses will be exposed to the latest research and practice innovations.”
The minor will debut Neuroscience of Mental Health: Research and Practice (PSYC 3803), a new course co-taught by Celikel and Hughes-Troutman. In the course, Hughes-Troutman says, “we're taking a deep dive into what happens in the brain, practical applications to enhance well-being, and other ways that students can increase positive affective states such as joy and happiness while minimizing stress.”
That course will be linked with a Vertically Integrated Project (VIP) team led by Celikel and Hughes-Troutman that will give students hands-on experience assessing and building mental health and wellness. “Well-Being VIP students will work with students in the class using survey and biosensing data to give them accurate data and monitoring of their mental health,” says Hughes-Troutman. “They’ll use apps and other e-tools to measure their levels of mindfulness, help them meditate, and reach their goals related to focus, attention, and relaxation. By the end of the class, students will have developed a portfolio that allows them to reflect upon and document a cadre of skills and experiences.”
Students in the minor will also choose 12 credits of other courses offered as part of the program, including Science of Stress, Anxiety, and Happiness (PSYC 3000), Mindfulness: Science and Practice (PSYC 3005), Health Psychology (PSYC 3009), and many more exploring the neuroscience and psychology of mental health.
“The Science of Mental Health and Well-Being curriculum highlights the importance of a comprehensive approach that considers both psychological and neurological factors maintaining mental well-being,” adds Celikel, the School of Psychology chair. “A deeper appreciation for the complexities of mental health conditions and their underlying mechanisms will help to reduce stigma and drive research and innovation in the field.”
The minor is open to all students across Georgia Tech, though Hughes-Troutman and Celikel are hopeful that psychology, neuroscience, and pre-health students will take particular interest in the program.
“When I think about students going to medical school or entering clinical programs in particular, there is a need to take an inclusive and holistic approach to health so that they can attend to the mind, body, and spirit of their clients and patients,” says Hughes-Troutman. “So many medical models ignore the concept of wellness when solely focusing on eradicating illness and this can lead to an unfortunate disconnect.”
“These are skills that pre-health, public health, counseling, and clinical students are going to learn very early,” she says. “I think that will augment their education and their future careers as they provide excellent care to clients and patients as well as help themselves.”
“The degree to which we can provide education about health and well-being,” Hughes-Troutman adds, “that we can get students excited about those concepts, and that we can contribute to the greater good of our community at Georgia Tech so students are equipped with the skills to help themselves and others — it's just fantastic.”
The minor is officially launching this fall and is currently accepting enrollment. To learn more about the minor, visit the School of Psychology website or contact Tiffiny Hughes-Troutman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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By: Audra Davidson
Communications Officer II
Georgia Tech College of Sciences