Mental Disorders in the School Environment
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.
In today’s world, we see a rise in mental disorders such as anxiety, stress, and depression amongst students that is reaching levels higher than anything we have ever seen before. These are some of the most common disorders we see occurring in the school environment. They often derive from things like workload and pressure which are becoming more and more intense in today’s school systems.
In the graph to the right, you can see the huge increase in student reports of mental health incidents that have recently occurred in just 5 years alone.
In hopes of improving the mental health crisis occurring in today’s students, I have chosen to create a project in which students can be supplied with resources to help out peers who may be struggling with mental disorders. Hopefully, by equipping students with the proper resources to assist peers and eventually connect them to counselors, the student
population as a whole will receive better treatment of mental disorders, which will hopefully result in overcoming or mitigating the mental disorders they are afflicted by.
This graphic shows just how early on mental health issues
are established. This helps to give an understanding of how
students can develop mental disorders from an early age.
Where the idea came from:
My Personal Experience:
So throughout the course of high school (and some of middle school), I have seen far too many friends struggle with various challenges, specifically anxiety, stress, and depression. I tend to be the friend people come to for help, so I would hear a lot about the struggles of my friends as they dealt with various mental disorders. And to me, this really quickly became a super personal and it instilled some really deep emotions inside about the topic of mental illness as a whole. I am a pretty empathetic person and as I heard of my friend’s hardships I could almost feel their pain to an extent. As I formed these intimate connections with my friends I felt an intense desire to not only be there for them as much as possible but also to be able to help them get through whatever they were going through. So, as a result, as my friends would come to me for advice I began to spend a lot of time trying to better understand these mental disorders. As I looked around I realized that it wasn’t all that easy to find advice I could trust enough to help my friends, on top of that I realized that there wasn’t a solution that suited everyone, and each person had their own case which would require finding an individualized application of solutions. In fact, it was these experiences I was having in trying to help my friends that led me to my interest and decision to take psychology courses in the first place.
What I want to Change:
When I first hear about the catalyst conference and how we would be coming up with a project to catalyze change in our community I imminently knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to find a way to provide students with reliable resources in order to help out their friends when they came to them. One of the things I realized with my personal experience, is that sometimes its easier for someone to reach out to a friend over anyone else like a counselor, parent, or teacher. Ironically, a fellow peer is most likely the least equipped person to handle the situation in terms of knowledge about mental disorders. That is why my project aims at providing students with resources so they can serve to mediate between a friend struggling with some mental disorder and someone like a school counselor. This way, a student struggling with some kind of mental disorder can feel comfortable expressing themselves to a friend and then build up an indirect relationship with someone who can provide them the best help possible until they eventually feel comfortable talking with them directly.
Interview with Mrs. Dixon:
Ali Dixon has worked at a mental practice known as The Anxiety & Stress Management Institute for the past 4 years. Currently, she works with patients 16 years and older, with the majority of her patients are college students, but she has worked with plenty of high school students. I had an interview with her where I asked several questions, most of which dealt with the topic of students and mental disorders.
Here are some of the questions and answers from the interview:
Q: What does mental illness look like in today’s student demographic?
A: There is a rise in anxiety with high school and college students nowadays due to the pressure to achieve, and perfectionism.
Q: Where does this pressure come from?
A: Pressure comes from college, coaches, teachers, parents, and comparison to other students. Comparing happens now more than ever with this generations access to social media in which people are comparing themselves to other people’s best image of themselves.
Q: What triggers disorders like anxiety, stress, and depression in younger people?
A: It tends to be the whole achievement thing. Young people are asking themselves how do I get to where I want to go and trying figure out who they are. And a common thread seen in all age groups is change, a human going through a change they don’t know how to handle can be cause for the onset of these disorders.
Q: What is the best way to treat people suffering from these mental disorders?
A: One of the best ways is cognitive behavioral therapy. It focuses on the idea that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all linked. It breaks down all of those connections to help patients understand both themselves and their own perspectives better in order to have them change how they feel about themselves on their own.
Q: What is the best way to help someone struggling with a mental disorder, without having to go to someone like a counselor?
A: The internet is a great place to find information to provide self-help. Books also offer information and help promote mindfulness. But most importantly support that person. If you want to help someone the best thing you can do is give them support and encouragement and let them know it’s okay to get help.
What Can You Do?
This animation aims to show what it is like to be a student with a mental disorder:
Now that you have an idea of what its like to live with a mental disorder, hopefully, you see how it is all the more important to reach out to the students in your community, especially if you are a student yourself and put in your best effort to help out. When reaching out to a friend the most important thing you can do for them is to be there for them and be empathetic. Don’t just sit there and feel sorry when you have a friend reaching out to you, it is a really brave thing for them to do so it is so important that you are responsive to them in their time of need, do your best to understand their feelings. Eventually, try and talk to them about getting help from a professional, such as a counselor at your school.
Below are a few websites which can help you to start understanding what someone is going through and ways you can help them:
I encourage you to share these resources with your friends and spread awareness of mental disorders.
The next step in this issue is simply to execute it in our schools. Personally, I will be working with my school counselors in order to set up a system that provides the resources I have mentioned throughout my project. On a larger scale, I encourage you all to try and push these ideas in your community, especially if you are a student, reach out to your school counselors and ask them what resources your school has available to help students struggling with mental disorders. Think about how you can spread awareness in your school to promote these resources. Furthermore, think about how you can make your fellow peers feel comfortable in speaking up about how they feel and reaching out to get the help they need.
Bass, Emily Powel. “The Rise of Anxiety in Teens: How Did We Get Here?” Turnaround Anxiety, Informed Therapy
Resources, 2018. Accessed 24 Apr. 2018.
Cohen, Melissa. “STUDENT GUIDE TO SURVIVING STRESS AND ANXIETY IN COLLEGE & BEYOND.” Learn Psychology,
2018. Accessed 24 Apr. 2018.
Coughlan, Sean. “Rising numbers of stressed students seek help.” BBC News, BBC, 2018. Accessed 24 Apr. 2018.
Denizet-Lewis, Benoit. “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?” The New York
Times, 11 Oct. 2017. Accessed 24 Apr. 2018.
Rosenberg, David. “1 in 5 college students have anxiety or depression. Here’s why.” The Conversation, The Conversation US,
9 Feb. 2018. Accessed 24 Apr. 2018.