How to Explore Your Interests in Mental Health and Psychology While You’re Still in High School
Did you know that on average one in five American teens will struggle with a mental health problem in their lifetime? This means that you or someone you know is likely to be affected. While it’s easy to feel powerless, educating yourself about these issues and how to help is a great way to gain a sense of control and even explore a natural interest.
For high school students interested in psychology or devoted to mental health awareness, there may not be many established avenues for pursuing these interests through your school. If you’re a student drawn to these topics, you might be uncertain how to pursue them in ways that are both productive for your community and translatable to college applications. With a little initiative, though, it is possible to create your own opportunities in these fields, and it may be easier than you thought.
In this post, we’ll outline four simple ways to clearly establish your passion for mental health and psychology and to pursue these interests in ways that are meaningful and productive. To learn more about pursuing your interests in these important areas while you’re still in high school, read on.
Four Smart Approaches to Pursuing an Interest in Psychology or Mental Health in High School:
1. Start a Psychology Club
If your school already has a psychology club, you’ve probably joined it already. But if not, have you considered the option of creating your own?
A psychology club is a great way to pursue your interests, gain insight from peers with similar interests, and establish yourself as a leader who is willing to create opportunities where previously there were none.
Your psychology club might focus on a different mental health topic each month or could do more in-depth year-long studies. It may incorporate readings, online resources, and even movies or television shows, paired with whole group or small group discussions. There are some great ideas to get you started on this blog, written by a high school psychology teacher.
To learn more about starting your own club, including how to get started and what to do if your school can’t approve your club, check out these posts:
2. Self-Study for the Psychology Advanced Placement Exam
Psychology classes in high school are not a routine offering, and sometimes even when they’re offered, they may not be the best course selection for any number of reasons. Perhaps they don’t fit into your schedule or they don’t meet your school’s standards for the most challenging course tracks. Whatever the case may be, you can still study psychology without taking a formal class.
Self-studying for the Psychology AP Exam is a great way to establish how serious you are about this subject matter and to demonstrate your proficiency in pursuing it independently.
The Psychology AP Exam is heavy on memorization, which actually suits it well to self-studying. Lots of the information on it can be retained in the same way as information that you study for history or science exams, since it includes specifics about certain psychologists in history along with the experiments they undertook. In fact, 66% of your score is based on your answers to the 100 multiple-choice questions in the first section. The second section contains two free-response questions, with each worth 16.5% of your score.
Very little of the content requires in-depth understanding of complex processes that are sometimes better suited to classroom instruction. Instead, if you’re good at memorizing facts, you’ll be good at self-studying for the Psychology AP.
To learn more about self-studying for the Psychology AP Exam, check out these posts:
3. Get Involved With Your School’s Mental Health Center
Mental health centers in high schools are becoming more and more commonplace, as outlined in this 2009 article from the American Psychological Association, and they’re a great spot to funnel your passion for such important issues. If your school has a mental health center, get in touch with the faculty advisor or guidance counselor in charge to see how you might become involved.
You could be responsible for sourcing quality, accessible information to be included in public outreach, you might help raise funds to sustain the center, or you could develop a free and anonymous system for checking out mental health resources like books or DVDs.
If your school does not already have a mental health center, think about starting your own. You might begin by meeting with a guidance counselor to discuss the possibility. Research important mental health issues in your community and conduct polls within the student body to identify which issues are most important to your community. Then, gather resources to help educate others and to direct students in need to the resources that might help them. If fundraising or staffing is an issue, see if there are any local organizations that might like to partner with your school. Reach out to a local psychiatrist who specializes in teens if you need some more direction about where to look.
If you do become involved in your school’s mental health center, be sure that you know the protocol for dealing with a mental health crisis in your school population. It’s of critical importance that a formal protocol is established for responding to these kinds of mental health emergencies, and everyone who is involved with the center should undergo regular training to ensure that they are familiar with the response procedure.
If your center does not have a protocol in place or you’re just getting started establishing it, meet with your guidance counselor, school administrators, or the school nurse to discuss the process. It’s likely that your school already has a protocol in place that the mental health center will be able to utilize, but if not it’s an important conversation to get started.
4. Start an Awareness Campaign
Another way to become a community leader in the fields of mental health and psychology is to lead an awareness campaign, either for your school or for your greater community. This is a good choice for a student who has a limited span of time to devote, since it can be a highly focused project over a finite period, like a single semester or even a single month of the school year. If you have a longer period of time to commit, you might pair this campaign with an internship at a related local organization.
To get started, research the mental health issues most important to your target community. These could include anxiety, social anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, or any other mental health issue. Reach out to friends and family to get started, or consider distributing an anonymous poll throughout your school. You should also talk to local mental health professionals, school administrators, or guidance counselors to get their input. Try to narrow your focus to one single issue.
Once you’ve chosen a focus, gather a group of interested students to brainstorm your message and how you will get it out there. Keep in mind that your awareness campaign should have two primary goals. First, it should educate your target audience about the issue. Second, it should provide resources for people affected by the issue. Keep these goals in mind as you select materials and resources to include.
An awareness campaign generally consists of multiple elements. These commonly include highly visible posters or flyers, well-advertised informational meetings, and readily accessible handouts or other take-home materials. Sometimes, you might also want to make announcements or include information in your school’s newspaper. You could even choose to host a culminating event, such as a fundraiser.
If you’d like a gauge for the effectiveness of your awareness campaign, consider asking school officials in advance if you can distribute a general questionnaire about the issue both before and after the campaign. Make the questionnaire very simple and include a few factual questions with either yes/no answers or multiple choice. Also, include a question about how to find help for this particular issue. After the campaign, you’ll be able to compare the two sets of surveys and measure your effectiveness.
Mental health and psychology are fascinating and hugely important fields. It is estimated that more than half of adults suffering from a mental health issue do not receive treatment and that mental health disorders are on the rise. Pair this with the fact that there is a significant mental health workforce shortage, and your interest in these fields becomes even more important.
Nurture your passion for mental health as a high school student, and you’ll not only establish for college applications your ability to take initiative and devote yourself to a cause, but also you’ll set yourself up for a career with high demand.
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