Newsletter Article

CCFW Program Brings Evidence-Based Prevention Program to UW Community

Classes. Finals. Balancing work and school. Uncertainty about future career paths. Competitive majors. Imposter syndrome. 

Add a global pandemic to the mix, and stressors that were once manageable suddenly become overwhelming. 

It's no surprise that the pandemic has exacerbated the mental health crisis amongst youth and college-aged students. Lockdowns, fear of infection or infecting others, remote classes, economic challenges and constant reminders of the tolls of the pandemic have undoubtedly taken a toll even on individuals who had not experienced mental health challenges before. 

Before the pandemic, universities were already struggling to meet the mental health needs of their students. It was clear then--as it is now--that most universities were wholly unprepared for the steep increase in demand for mental health services as a result of the ongoing pandemic. 

Appropriately addressing the global mental health crisis among youth will require multi-faceted, multi-pronged and culturally competent approaches that can be scaled at large, and prevention programs can be part of this approach. One such program is currently being deployed on all three UW campuses, along with an initial pilot to offer it on a national level.  

Be REAL (Resilient Attitudes & Living), developed by the UW Center for Child and Family Well-being, is an evidence-based prevention program that promotes the well-being and resilience of youth and college students. In six weekly sessions, 90 minutes each, participants engage in interactive discussions, guided contemplative practices, and small group activities that emphasize strategies to manage stress, build emotional awareness and emotional regulation skills, cultivate self-compassion, and strengthen skills to navigate life challenges. These sessions can be led by advisors, instructors, and other staff who interface with students. As of the end of Spring Quarter 2022, over 1,000 students and 350 staff across all three UW campuses have participated in Be REAL, with 70 of these staff members becoming trained to deliver Be REAL to students across the UW. 

"Connecting with other students made me feel much less self-conscious about my own efforts and I feel the practices were genuinely helpful and empowering in my own life" -- Student Participant 

The Window of Tolerance is one coping mechanism that students learn in the Be REAL Program. 
CCFW Window of Tolerance Coping Mechanism


In addition to opening more pathways for students to access mental health programs, Be REAL fosters a culture of well-being on campus, particularly in 'micro-communities' and student-affinity spaces. And the data show that it's working. Students who participate in Be REAL showed significant improvements in perceived stress, emotional regulation, coping, social connection, self-compassion and symptoms of anxiety. Further, these improvements were maintained three months after the program ended (Link to Frontiers in Psychiatry paper). A more recent evaluation of Be REAL is examining the impact on the well-being of staff as well as the students who participate in the program.  

"What I liked most was being led through practices and exercises. It gave me time to practice self-compassion, which is something that has been lacking during the pandemic." -- Student Participant

Programs like Be REAL are in high demand--Be REAL facilitators recently trained a cohort made up of representatives from universities nationwide. Be REAL plans on continuing to expand, both across the UW and nationally. The Be REAL "train-the trainer" model provides a scalable solution to mental health access in university settings, and successfully equips young people with skills to reduce stress, manage emotions, strengthen compassion, and navigate challenging situations.

"It is inspiring to hear how dedicated everyone is to supporting students. Several campus staff have remarked that in light of the growing mental health crisis they want to replicate what Be REAL has become at the UW and how enthusiastic they are to bring an evidence-based program to their campuses." -- Robyn Long, Director of Programming and Training

“Be REAL is not intended to substitute for mental health treatment when needed. As a prevention program, it is intended to provide youth with tools and skills to manage their challenging situations, with the intention of enhancing their well-being and reducing the need for more intensive treatment.” -- Dr. Liliana Lengua, Director of CCFW 

Self-compassion and mindfulness are two large themes of the Be REAL program; in a world where young people are constantly comparing themselves to others (through social media), these two principles provide grounding and an opportunity to practice gratitude.
Photo of CCFW Self-Compassion Break Exercise


We are at a critical juncture with respect to mental health, and prevention programs like Be REAL are rising to the challenge of meeting mental health and well-being needs. To learn more about the Center for Children and Family Well-Being, the Be REAL program, and our other prevention programs visit