Project Happiness teaches young people to better deal with stress

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Teenage years are always stressful and that is why experts say many young adults end up turning to things like drugs and alcohol to cope. Over three million kids ages 7 to 17 have been treated for depression in thepast five years, more than double the number from the previous five years. Anew program taught through the University of Arizona's Youth University is teaching teens better ways to cope.

The class is called the "Project Happiness Workshop." Many of the high schoolers taking the class say they were reluctant to come, but after just a few days, their minds have changed.

"It kind of sounded like an alcoholics anonymous something like that where a bunch of people with problems would come," Max Olson, astudent at Salpointe Catholic High School who also is taking this week's workshop said.

"At first I heard some people saying this would be a class for people that have depression, but it's not that at all," FernandoArmendariz, a Catalina Foothills High student said. Armendariz says his parents suggested he take the class.

In fact, many of the 20 or so middle and high school aged students here are just like their peers: stressed about friends, their parents and school.

"I don't know, I guess like, I worry about the future too much so I'm always like, 'if I don't do good now, I'm going to be terrible whenI'm older and I'm not going to get a job,'" Naomi Chandran, a student at BasisOro Valley said.

Stress can start and Dr. Sheena Brown, a neuroscience researcher at the UA and one of the workshop teachers, says it can get worse from there. The course is based upon curriculum from "Project Happiness," which started after a California mom because worried about her own child's stress and depression. She then learned of the alarming rates of stress, depression,bullying and suicides among young people.

"I think the thing with young people is, we don't know," Dr.Brown explained. "They have this stoic face that everything is cool, everything is fine, but it's not fine."

In the weeklong workshop, students learn coping mechanisms that Project Happiness hopes will steer young people away from drugs and alcohol and help them to be happy.

"I realize there are other people going through the same thing and I wasn't alone," Chandran said.

Coping mechanisms like breathing are taught in the course, but students also listen to guest speakers and complete art projects.

Armendariz says he is happy he came for the course and now knows, "that happiness comes from within ourselves and that with the pain that we have had we will achieve that happiness."

The course costs $295 for the week, but scholarships are available. Right now, there are no further workshops scheduled, but the UA is looking for ways to offer it more frequently.

To learn more about Project Happiness, visit the following link:

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