Date of Award

January 2020

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


School of Public Health

First Advisor

Marney A. White


Background: Graduate school environments are recognized for contributing to elevated stress levels among student populations, particularly when compared to their non-academic peers. Graduate school settings can subsequently foster maladaptive coping strategies among students, including self-isolation, poor nutrition choices, engaging with less physical exercise, and substance misuse. Self-stigma related to mental health care may additionally discourage students from seeking mental health treatment. The objective of this study was to explore whether self-directed behavioral interventions, delivered in the context of a course on behavior change, are effective in promoting health among this population. Prior studies have shown that self-directed behavioral interventions can improve behaviors related to nutrition and physical activity. The current study adds to this evidence with new findings on behaviors related to mental health.

Methods: Data were collected via a quasi-experimental longitudinal study to observe the effect of self-directed behavioral interventions on categories of health including mental health, physical activity, and nutrition. Participants included students enrolled in a course on the foundations of behavior change theory at the Yale School of Public Health (n=59) and a control group (n=33) of students in the same graduate program. Univariate analyses were conducted between the two participant groups to evaluate changes at post-intervention and at a follow-up assessment in indicators of mental health, physical activity, nutrition, social life, and general health perception.

Results: Among the enrolled participants, statistically significant changes occurred in frequency of anxious and depressed days, measures of depression, anxiety, and stress subscale scores, and perceived level of stress. Notable improvements to levels of engagement with physical activity and consumption of health-promoting food groups were also observed.

Conclusion: Self-directed behavior change interventions are effective in promoting mental and physical health among graduate student populations.


This is an Open Access Thesis.

Open Access

This Article is Open Access