Laurie Santos launches new course aimed at teen well-being
After the enormous success of her original online psychology course and the announcement of her retirement as Silliman’s Head of College, Santos hopes to engage a new audience: middle and high schoolers.
Annie Yan, Contributing Illustrator
Professor Laurie Santos has revamped her popular “The Science of Well-Being” Coursera class in response to rising anxiety and depression rates within the teenage demographic.
The new course, which debuted earlier this month, has already garnered thousands of views. Santos hones in on teen-specific problems such as intrafamilial conflicts, school stressors and a variety of other emotional growing pains.
“In my Yale class, I quote the scary mental health statistics facing college students nationally today,” Santos told the News. Per her own numbers, over 40 percent of surveyed students are “too depressed to function most days,” and over 60 percent feel overwhelming anxiety.
Santos noted that when she first began teaching Psychology and the Good Life — a psychology lecture which was at one point the school’s most popular course — public attention grew. Almost immediately, she recalls, she began to receive requests from parents and educators asking for an accessible version of the class tailored toward younger audiences.
Santos believes many mental health issues start in high school and even middle school, peaking as students approach university and stressors accumulate. She hopes her course might work as a “preventative medicine,” stopping some of these stressors before they can grow.
“I really wish all my students were able to learn some evidence-based strategies for navigating stress before they come to Yale,” Santos told the News. “I feel like this would make them more prepared for the kinds of stresses they’ll face in college.”
The course aims to focus on the teaching of “sustainable well-being practices” that enable learners to consider and overcome their own cognitive biases, leaving them better-suited to deal with the stressors of the modern world as college students and young adults.
“I believe that especially with well-being activities such as engaging in social connection and breathing exercises, providing that knowledge at an earlier age will allow for better stress-relieving practices going forward which drew me to this project,” Karen Ayoub ’25, a research assistant on the project, told the News.
Ayoub believes in the importance of personalized learning strategies for individual students, and said that attentiveness to their socioemotional needs is crucial.
In order to ensure the course would be effective with its target age demographic, Santos hired Ayoub to join the venture. Ayoub, a psychology major, had taken Santos’s lecture course and had become increasingly interested in the intersection between education, self-care and stress.
Ayoub and other members of the team brought high school students to Yale’s campus and filmed interviews in which they asked about their concerns and experiences, hoping to further refine the course’s goals. The class also includes opt-in surveys. The surveys allow students to provide feedback and test the content’s efficacy — a strategy which Santos said proved successful in the course’s original adult version.
“The primary difference between courses is the ‘YOU.’ In the new version, Laurie speaks directly to teenagers and includes scenarios that are relevant to them,” explained Belinda Platt, a project manager and associate director of digital education at Yale’s Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning.
In order to ensure the course would be able to reach a wide audience, Santos sought help from Platt and the Poorvu center.
“Ideally, the course wins over the skeptics and equips teenagers with strategies to take ownership of their own mental health,” Platt told the News. “I wish I had this when I was younger.”
Platt added that she hopes the course will engage audiences that have thus far been unreachable.
Santos is excited about initial positive reactions to the course and the traction it is gaining; she noted that in the first few days of its existence, over 10,000 students enrolled. Over 170,000 have signed up for the adult version since its impetus.
“I think that speaks to the fact that there’s a real need for better strategies for managing stress in our young people today,” she stated.
Santos began teaching at Yale in 2003.