Addressing Mental Health in the Bay Area High Schools
This project is a requirement of the GOA Abnormal Psychology Course. Using the process of design thinking, a challenge in the world of mental health was identified, interviews and research were undertaken, and a solution prototype was developed. Below you will find information about the identified area of concern and my proposed solution. Please feel free to provide feedback on this prototype, using questions such as “How might we…”, “What if….?”, “I wonder….”, “I like…”, and “I wish.” Keep the comments positive, please. For more information on the process of Design Thinking, click here.
Mental health has become a hot topic in the media in the past few years since the prevalence of a mental illness in youth has grown considerably. Despite the increased awareness and discussion surrounding mental illness, there is still a stigma that comes with it, and it is still widely misunderstood by the general public. I believe that it’s important to cultivate an empathetic and open attitude towards those with mental illnesses because it will help eliminate the stigma and a good place to start with the youth in society. I am aware that widespread change will take time and patience, and I thought it would be best to start with change on a local level.
For my project, I explored high schools in the Bay Area to compare the support systems each school provides for students with mental illnesses, and I came up with a potential solution to aid the spread of mental health awareness and empathy. I was inspired to do this project after I was diagnosed with a mental illness and got to explore the resources my school offered.
I interviewed five students from different schools from around the Bay Area to ask them how their schools addressed mental illness and what changes they thought needed to be made at their schools. In general, the students thought that mental illness and mental health wasn’t talked about enough at their schools, and I thought that this was somewhat alarming because there is a large population of youth that is affected by some form of mental illness.
Gunn High School (Palo Alto)– Emily Zhou: Junior
- Zhou said that her school has a history of suicides, but the school administration doesn’t address the issues surrounding the suicides and avoids the topic altogether
- She said that the students are angry that the suicides aren’t being talked about
- The school is competitive, and stress and anxiety are prevalent
- Zhou suggested that the school face the problem of suicide directly and provide more support and education about mental health for the students
Piedmont High School (Piedmont)– Angela Huang: Junior
- Huang said that her school has a formal wellness center with licensed therapists and other stress relieving activities like stress balls, tea, a guitar, and stress putty
- Huang also mentioned that her school hosts seminars for the students to attend that address mental illness
- Sophomores are required to take a social psychology course
- Huang suggested that the teachers themselves become more engaged with mental health in the student body and send out questionnaires assessing each student’s mental state
Saratoga High School (Saratoga)– Stephanie Ren: Senior
- Ren talked about how a large part of the student body is depressed and stressed and struggle with anxiety because of the competitive environment
- Her school partners with CASSY (Counseling and Support Services for Youth) and provides counselors for the students
- CASSY also helps spread the awareness of the issues surrounding mental illness.
- Ren thinks that her “school can improve by reducing the competitive atmosphere and de-emphasizing the correlation between test scores/grades and self worth”.
Menlo School (Atherton)– Taylor Gould: Junior
- Gould talked about her school’s “sources of strength” club that trains students to help other students with mental illnesses
- Gould also mentioned that the school had a wellness center that has pamphlets about mental health and relaxing activities for students to enjoy like tea, slime, and sand
- The school also hosts speakers to talk to the student body about mental illness
- Gould suggests that the school promote the counselor more to the students because Gould finds that she is a helpful resource.
- She also said that it would be useful for the school to reduce the amount of homework it gives the students because it puts them under a lot of stress.
Milpitas High School (Milpitas)-Stephanie Nguyen: Junior
- Nguyen mentioned that while her school offers special programs for students with mental illnesses, her school doesn’t talk about it
- Her school collaborates with CASSY, similarly to Gould’s school
- Nguyen suggests that students seek out help individually so they can have one on one attention and don’t feel neglected
My experience as a senior at Head Royce School (Oakland)
- Students with mental illnesses are given special accommodations for their schoolwork, specifically, exams
- These accommodations include extra time, notecards, and computers
- My school also hosts several discussions about mental health
- These discussions are run by students occasionally
- We have a counselor that provides a safe space for students to express themselves freely
- The faculty and staff at my school are also invested in improving mental health among the student body, and the teachers emphasize the importance of mental health in individual classrooms
- There are still areas that my school can improve upon, and I would suggest that the discussions include eating disorders and other mental illnesses. My school tends to focus on dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, anxiety, and stress because they tend to be the most common among our school community, but I think it would be helpful for the discussions to branch out more.
A way to help us become more empathetic towards people with mental illnesses is to become more familiar with mental illness and discuss it more. The topic still makes some people uncomfortable, and based on the feedback I got from my interviews, I believe that incorporating mandatory seminars and discussions into school curriculums will force students to acknowledge issues surrounding mental illness and normalize mental illness. Without the formal education in schools, youth are less likely to seek out the information on their own. I also think that it would be beneficial for high schools to collaborate with local organizations like CASSY to help the student body and provide resources.
I am curious to know what you all think about the information I’ve presented. How might we motivate students to be more proactive about mental health if it’s not through school? Do you think having mandatory discussions in schools will be beneficial, or will it further isolate those with mental illnesses from the rest of the community?
My next step will be to speak to school administrators about making some slight changes to the school schedule so that there is time for speakers to come in and talk to the student body or discussions to be held for everyone to attend. I believe that with constant exposure, students will feel more comfortable opening up and seeking help because their peers will be able to empathize with them. I think that starting a group of students (maybe a club) who are very invested in this would be a good step, and from there, these students can collaborate with counselors to organize events for the entire school body.
Anderson, Meg, and Kavitha Cardoza. “Mental Health In Schools: A Hidden Crisis Affecting Millions Of Students.” NPR, NPR, 31 Aug. 2016, www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/08/31/464727159/mental-health-in-schools-a-hidden-crisis-affecting-millions-of-students.
“California School-Based Health Alliance.” California SchoolBased Health Alliance, www.schoolhealthcenters.org/healthlearning/mentalhealth/.
Office of Adolescent Health. “Adolescent Mental Health Basics.” HHS.gov, US Department of Health and Human Services, 14 Mar. 2018, www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/mental-health/adolescent-mental-health-basics/index.html.
“Prevalence.” Prevalence | Youth.gov, youth.gov/youth-topics/youth-mental-health/prevalance-mental-health-disorders-among-youth.
Solomon, Andrew, director. Love, No Matter What. TED, Apr. 2013.
“Teen Mental Health Treatment.” Teen Treatment Center, www.teentreatmentcenter.com/teen-mental-health-treatment-/.