Middle School Students Study Mental Health

By Jordan Burnham

In December of 2018, Minding Your Mind’s young adult speaker and director of student engagement, Jordan Burnham, was interviewed by a small group of students from Radnor Middle School (PA) who were doing research for a report on mental health. The students, Olivia Brubaker, Pablo Strid, Lyla Wallis, and Mathew Wolfington, are enrolled in Soundings, an integrated learning program that challenges eighth graders to explore student-selected themes that merge their adolescent concerns with global issues.  Olivia, Pablo, Lyla, and Mathew chose mental health in order to discover why there is still stigma surrounding it today.

With the goal of gaining insight from someone who speaks on his story and works in mental health advocacy as well, the students were prepared with over 30 questions covering a variety of topics. Jordan said it was one of the most professional and organized interviews he’s had the opportunity to participate in.

As the interview started, Mathew Wolfington laid down a voice recorder, while each student had a pencil, notepad, and took turns asking questions. When the students asked if he had ever had a group bring him in and conduct a full interview, Jordan said, “no, this is definitely my first being interviewed like this, and it’s awesome.” The students looked up from their notes, smiled at each other, and nodded their approval

On January 8, 2019, the unit group presented to thirty of their classmates, and both teachers. The project covered how society’s view of mental illness has changed from the early 1700s to the present, from the way mental health disorders were diagnosed, how cruel the treatment was for people with mental health disorders, and how the misconceptions of those disorders led to the stigma that’s often still associated with mental illness today.

Their classmates sat with notebooks and pencils, taking pages of notes, as they watched the unit group present a two-hour PowerPoint with the definitions of different mental health issues, while also using YouTube videos to add context by using real-life stories.

Halfway through the PowerPoint, the classmates were organized into small groups and placed at eight different activity stations. Each station focused on different mental health topics, including: depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, history of mental asylums, bipolar disorder, coping skills and treatment, Jordan Burnham’s story, anxiety, and schizophrenia.

The overall goal of the presentation was to educate their classmates on mental illness and discuss how society can help break the stigma that remains today. As Jordan sat in attendance for the unit group’s presentation, Mathew Wolfington paused during one of the slides and asked Jordan if he felt that the future of mental health awareness is going in a positive direction. Jordan responded by saying that he’s seen great improvement since the time he started presenting for Minding Your Mind in 2008, and it’s clear that seeing students choose to talk about mental health brings a lot of optimism about normalizing the conversation of mental health through education and stories.

Do you have students who are interested in researching a project on mental health? Contact Jordan at jordan@mindingyourmind.org to discuss how Minding Your Mind can assist in their work.