Mental Health Project ideas

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

Would you like to educate your 11th and 12th grade students about crucial mental health issues? As they work alone or with others, they will learn how mental health disorders affect people and what can be done to alleviate these conditions.

Why Mental Health?

Someone once said 'don't give in to stigma, a diagnosis does not determine who you are or what you can do!' Many students, as well as adults, are terrified of dealing with mental health disorders because of the unfair stigma that might accompany them. In these three projects, your juniors and seniors will work as individuals and in groups to learn more about various mental health concerns. They will benefit by realizing millions of other people secretly deal with these issues, that stigmatizing is not really fair, and that treatment options are available.

Stress Reduction Journals

Materials: online access, student journal books, writing implements

  • Many experts believe stress can lead to mental health disorders as well as anger, decreased sleep quality, depression, and lower grades. What's worse is these factors can snowball, become a vicious cycle, and tragically even lead to suicide.
  • However, the good news is a myriad of techniques and strategies can be taught to high school students as they deal with acne, peer pressure, parents, worries over college, and the other travails of teenage life.
  • Have your students keep a daily journal, including weekends, of their daily lives.
  • Let them know they should include emotions, feelings, and thoughts as well as what events took place.
  • Lastly, make sure students keep their journal private and locked away, or if they use an online journal, have them keep a secret password.

Discussion Questions: Why do you think keeping a stress journal can help to alleviate stress? How would you compare and contrast keeping a journal versus talking to someone about your problems?

Three Helpful Mindfulness Exercises

Materials: online capability, paper, snacks, writing utensils,

  • By teaching mindfulness in the classroom, your goal is to get your students to apply the principles to their day-to-day lives. Many experts claim mindfulness could possibility improve mental health, reduce teenage depression, and even prevent teenage suicides. It might help your students:
    • Become more self-aware
    • Calm their minds
    • Communicate better
    • Empathize more with others
    • Reduce debilitating stress
  • These exercises should be done at least once per week for a at least a three-month period.

Mindful Breathing

  • Many experts feel deeper breathing is preferable to shallower breathing.
  • Instruct your students to visualize a pleasant place such as a beach or a mountain stream.
  • First have your students sit down, relax, and close their eyes.
  • Now have the students breathe in slowly and deeply through their noses while counting to three.
  • Next have the students breathe out slowly through the their mouths while counting to three.
  • Repeat this process five times.
  • Lastly, have your students open their eyes and ask them how different it feels to breathe this way versus the way they normally breathe throughout the school day.

Mindful Eating

Note - make sure to check for students with food allergies, and don't use peanuts for this exercise.

  • In our fast-paced society, we tend to rush everything, including eating. Many students only get about 10 to 15 minutes to eat lunch, when you factor in standing in line and clean-up times.
  • First provide your students a simple and fairly easy to chew snack such as some chips.
  • Next have them smell the food for about 30 seconds.
  • Now have them touch the food for about 20 seconds.
  • At this point, have the students chew the food as slowly and as many times as possible.
  • Finally, ask the students how this method of eating is different than the way they usually eat.

Mindful Walking

  • So many people rush from place to place and activity to activity, and before they know it, another year has slipped away without them really enjoying the journey.
  • First provide an open room, hall, or outside space for the students to have plenty of room to walk without bumping into items.
  • Now have your students take three slow, deep breaths, inhaling through their noses and then exhaling out their mouths.
  • Next have them walk as slowly as possible, taking care to look up and around as opposed to at their feet.
  • Instruct them to pay attention to their five senses as they are walking.
  • In conclusion, ask them what they noticed differently when walking slowly versus what they notice when they walk at a quicker pace.

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