Children Are Suffering: What Are Private Schools Doing to Decrease the Stigma Around Mental Illnesses?

Please view this short introduction video before reading!

Before proceeding, I would like for you to please watch this video about the “real truth” of mental health in children from the UK. 

It is no secret that children are being diagnosed with mental illnesses at younger and younger ages these days. It has been a growing problem that forces families to turn to their schools and institutions for help. Many wonder why this is a growing issue… Are schools just teaching with more rigor and therefore our children are under more stress? Or are we now just paying more attention to labels and diagnoses in children in general? Either way, 15 million American children and young adults suffer from a mental illness, but a striking 2/3 of that population never receive or have access to a proper diagnosis and treatment (pictured in the infographic below). Because our children spend a majority of their time at school these days, many are wondering what these institutions are doing to help their students so that they can grow to be leaders not only with a good education in general but a good education in mental health. As a student that has had her fair share of struggling within the school system, I know that it is next to impossible to thrive and learn in an environment when you are in a dark place mentally. My school, Providence Day, is a private school in Charlotte, North Carolina that I have attended since I was in Kindergarten. I decided to make my school and our Lower School population (Kindergarten-5th grade) my main focus in my catalyst project and what they are doing to help their students. 

To begin my research, I spoke with the Lower School Counselor at Providence Day who I have grown to know very well. She started off by saying that one of the biggest challenges within her job is that she works with over 600 kids! I asked her about some of the most common diagnoses she sees at Providence Day, and she said mostly anxiety, emotional intelligence issues, or adjustment disorders in females while males struggle with ADHD and anger management issues. While we were discussing this topic, she also brought up the fact that nowadays children who attend more high-achieving schools are becoming more and more at risk for developing a mental illness because of the continued stress they face. She said that occasionally she will see some early onsets of depression but this is less common until the child reaches puberty.  Providence Day’s mission regarding mental health is to find solutions based on short term problem solving, such as helping students identify their patterns in behavior and what coping skills they have available to combat those negative patterns. The counselor says that while she does not have the power to formally diagnose children, she wants a diagnosis to be an exploration process; something that you can use to understand yourself better. Mental health and wellness, just like learning math or working out, is a skill that needs to be exercised and practiced before you can become really good at it. She tries to help the children focus on normalizing their negative feelings; realize that they aren’t the only ones struggling. She says that this helps promote a growth mindset in the child that can empower them to improve. It turns out that Providence Day is doing a lot more than I initially thought to help their students, which was great news: 

  1. Next year, Providence Day will be hiring an additional Lower School Counselor to help combat the overwhelming numbers that the current counselor is facing. About 3 years ago this same shift was made in our Upper School community and we saw amazing results. 
  2. Providence Day is very focused on not only the mental health and wellness in their students but also in their families and faculty. Kid’s minds are very malleable and they focus on learning from the actions of others. If parents and the faculty can model good coping skills and a healthy mindset, the kids will learn from them as well. 
  3. There is a character education system that is taught in Lower School as well by the Lower School Counselor. Below is a video from the Lower School Counselor that was used to send to students so that they feel supported while remote learning. This models what she would normally teach in the classroom (such as the Zones of Regulation, etc). She also reads many children’s books about mental health such as Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, A Walk in The Rain with A Brain, and My Brain Needs Glasses. Update: I tried to upload the video and the file was too big :(. If you still want it please contact me directly! 
  4. The Lower School Counselor hosts a Life Skills Yoga Program after school for students to join to do yoga while talking about mental health and a healthy lifestyle! 

Below is a link to Providence Day’s mental health and wellness portion of the remote learning website set up to help students of all ages with the transition of learning in a classroom to at home. 

This topic was especially interesting to me because I want to become a child development specialist and learn more about psychology in college. My initial plan for this project was to formulate a presentation for parts of my Lower School Community that I could do in person. I hoped to talk about the statistics, how the students could help their peers struggling, warning signs, and the resources available to them at Providence Day. I am very sad that I was no longer able to carry out this plan because of remote learning. I regrouped and decided to create an infographic to hopefully be used in the continuing mental health curriculum the Lower School Counselor is teaching! 

So, what can you do to help those struggling right now? First of all, don’t be scared to reach out to your school’s administration and talk about what they are doing to combat the rising levels of mental health in children! I promise they want to hear your voice and your point of view because you are a student; they want to help! If you have a peer who you notice is struggling either externally or internally, it is always a good idea to talk to an adult about it. If you have access to a counselor at your school, make an appointment with them or walk right in to their office if the issue is urgent. In other cases, talking to a teacher or other faculty member works just as well. If you are a parent that notices any warning signs in your child pointing to a potential mental illness, your first step should be getting an appropriate diagnosis and start a treatment plan for your child. Having a diagnosis can help the school and counselors work better with your family and formulate a plan specific to your child’s needs. It is suggested that upon receiving this diagnosis in lower school children it is best to start talking to their classroom teacher rather than the school’s counselor. A parent’s partnership with the school or institution is essential to helping the child get the help that they need! Be direct and specific when talking to the designated faculty member at your school, and don’t be afraid to ask them questions about a potential plan or even to understand your child’s behavior better. 

Thank you so much for viewing! Please take a few minutes to fill out this feedback form below. 

Works Cited: 

“11 Simple Signs a Child May Have a Psychiatric Disorder.” Child Mind Institute,

Dryden-Edwards, Roxanne. “Mental Illness in Children: Signs, Types, & Causes.” MedicineNet, MedicineNet, 6 Sept. 2018,

Maxfield, Tracey. “Escaping The Rabbit Hole.” Engage Educate Empower, 21 June 2018,

Offner, Deborah. “Ensuring Your Child Is Supported at School.” NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness, 14 May 2018,

Snow, Kate, and Cynthia McFadden. “Generation at Risk: America’s Youngest Facing Mental Health Crisis.”, NBCUniversal News Group, 12 Dec. 2017,

Walker, Tim. “Are Schools Ready to Tackle the Mental Health Crisis?” NEA Today, National Education Association, 25 Oct. 2019,

Wallace, Jennifer Breheny. “Perspective | Students in High-Achieving Schools Are Now Named an ‘at-Risk’ Group, Study Says.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 26 Sept. 2019,

Share this project
  1. April 24, 2020 by Alek

    Hi Emma! This project is so well done! I love all the video you chose and how it showed the truth about what’s going on with children affected by mental illness. Thank you so much for all the work you did to bring this topic to light!

    • April 27, 2020 by Emma McDermott

      Thank you so much, Alek!

  2. April 24, 2020 by Andrea

    Hi Emma! Your project looks awesome. I did mine on similar topics, so it’s super nice to see other people caring for the mental health of children. All of the information is super clear on this website. Great job!

    • April 27, 2020 by Emma McDermott

      Awww that’s awesome! Thank you so much!!

  3. April 24, 2020 by Annabelle Johnson

    Hello Emma! When I was scrolling through the project names yours instantly drew me in. I also go to a very rigorous private school and you topic was automatically relatable and interesting. I think that you did a very nice job presenting your information. I enjoyed exploring all the videos and visuals that you provided. I think that your topic is truly relevant today and my project is actually very similar to yours in many aspects. With some of your research do you think the increase in diagnoses is only attributed to the teens environment/stress, or do you think that there is more present day because doctors have become better at actually reaching diagnoses?

    • April 27, 2020 by Emma McDermott

      Hey Annabelle! This is actually a super interesting question that I went over in the interview with my Lower School Counselor. She believed that the increase in diagnoses was maybe because the environment has become increasingly stressful, but also because therapists and doctors have gotten a little bit “label happy” in a sense. It is more common to diagnose kids today because they want to find something to attribute the abnormal behavior to (they as in mostly parents or the school). This can both be helpful because the kids can get help that they need, but it can also be harmful because it creates labels and stigma around mental health starting at younger ages. Thank you so much for your feedback!

  4. April 25, 2020 by Katie

    Emma, great work on your project! I think you did a wonderful job curating relevant resources and also explaining things in a clear way. Similarly to you and Annabelle, I also attend a rigorous private school, so your topic felt relevant to my own life as well. One question I have is, what do you think may be some barriers you may encounter when addressing mental illnesses in teenagers rather than younger children?

    • April 27, 2020 by Emma McDermott

      Hey Katie! Oh this is definitely a hard question. I think with teenagers it can be harder because they are going through puberty, so there is already another added layer of emotions not present in children because they are not there yet. Teenagers also have the added pressure of more rigorous school work, building friendships, maybe athletics, looking at colleges, etc., so there is probably a lot more on their plate. Teenagers also have a lot more autonomy as well, which can be both good and bad. Thank you so much for your feedback!

  5. April 27, 2020 by Jadyn

    Hi Emma! I really loved your project and think you did an amazing job! I love that your school is taking the necessary steps in order to further help the students with their mental health. The infographic that you made was really well done and I think that it’s formatted in a way that’s appealing to kids. I do have a question and that is did you meet with just the lower school counselor or did you also consult your upper school one as well?

  6. April 27, 2020 by Emmy

    Hi Emma! I love how your project is specific to private schooling, but it also is important for everyone to know. I go to the same school as Annabelle who commented above, so your question was really interesting to me as well. Most private schools have more resources than do public schools simply because they have more room within their budget. I know my school spends a lot of money on their counseling program but nobody uses them because of this stigma that other students will find out that there are reaching out for help. What do you think can be done to help this?

  7. April 27, 2020 by Owen

    This seems like a very interesting and important idea for a project. I think that people tend to overlook the mental health needs of students in school, as it can be a extremely stressful time in their lives.

  8. April 27, 2020 by Ivy

    This project was really well done. As I also go to private school, I was intrigued about learning how the different expectations and levels of stress on students at private schools differ from those attending public schools. I agree that schools, adults, and students are all becoming more open to discussing mental health, although in my personal experience there is still a lot of stigma around it, even when schools try to make them open to discussions between students and counselors. I think you did a really good job addressing the issues that students are facing, and how schools are trying to help with this. I also really liked that you added in a video, as it was a good way to get perspective on these topics from kids. You also included some graphics in this, which I also found helped to explain and add more context to your piece. This was really well done.

  9. April 27, 2020 by Lily

    I really enjoyed reading this. I go to a private school so I found reading the differences between public and private school stress very interesting. I find that going to private school adds that extra pressure because it feels like everyone holds you to a certain standard and when you don’t meet it as well as everyone else it just adds more stress onto my life. I do agree with you that there is still a little stigma around talking about Mental Health but I am lucky enough to go to a school where it is ok to openly talk about it.

  10. April 27, 2020 by Oliver

    Thank you for covering such an important topic for your project! With society progressing rapidly, and large advances being made technologically worldwide, we occasionally forget that one of the most important things we have to focus on is our mental health. As a private school student, I know how our set of challenges differ from that of public schools, and the different expectations there are. The mental health of youth has become increasingly more discussed and I am so happy to see that you’ve taken on this topic. Excellent job!

  11. April 27, 2020 by Lizzy

    Hi Emma, I love your project and think that it is so important that we talk about mental health more. I know a lot of my friends struggle with their mental health and it makes me frustrated because I don’t see a lot being done about it at my school (also private). Oftentimes, openly admitting and talking about your struggles isn’t really seen as normal/acceptable, which I something that I think needs to change. I can tell you invested a lot time & effort in to this, the graphics are so well done and you included a lot of helpful information. I hope you get to go ahead with your presentation someday, and thanks for all the work you’re doing, we need more people like you in the world! -Lizzy

  12. April 27, 2020 by Hailey Dondis

    Wow Emma, this is an amazing project! Even though you were not able to do the presentations for your school, I think that the info-graphic you made is an awesome way to get your points across to the younger learners! I hope you were able to share that with them as I think that it would be very useful especially during the distance learning! Great job!

  13. April 27, 2020 by Lara

    Hi Emma, I really enjoyed your presentation and I think that it is very important to identify mental illnesses on everybody but kids truly are more vulnerable than some others. Many times their relatives might not notice that they need to seek professional health and they tend to ignore it or think of it as some sort of phase of sorts. Mental health for everybody is really important and I think that you did a great job of focusing on a group that really needs more attention and help.

  14. April 28, 2020 by Caroline

    Hi Emma! I loved your presentation. No one ever thinks about children and their mental health. Your presentation was super interesting and helpful in providing ways to better mental health in children. Your videos were really eye-opening and helped to show just how much children are affected.

  15. April 28, 2020 by Katrina

    Hi Emma! I enjoyed your project and thought your infographic was really thoughtfully put together. As a private school student myself, I also find that there is more peer pressure to stay busy, be constantly active, and even have higher expectations for ourselves, all of which can definitely lead to mental health issues. I think your school is doing a great job in providing information to both students and parents about mental health, and I can see the similarities between my school and yours in that aspect. Though it is becoming more prevalent nowadays, I think discussion about mental health should be something that’s prioritized even at a young age, and I appreciate how you noted that in this project. Great work!

  16. April 28, 2020 by Ethan

    Hi Emma, I thought you did a really great job with your project! I thought you did a great job tackling a really important issue and I liked your use of infographics and external links throughout the project. I’m glad your school is taking so many steps to help its students and I’m sure your infographic will be a great help!

  17. April 28, 2020 by tessa

    Hi Emma! The dynamic within private schools can have the tendency to foster mental health issues due to the pressure that students learn to put on themselves from a young age. As someone who attends private school, I have seen first-hand overbearing parents with unrealistic expectations as well as students that can only focus on the future. There are a lot of factors that contribute to the competitive atmosphere of private schools and I think you highlight these thoughtfully. Overall, the issue of mental health is a growing problem for teens and young children. The most impactful thing we can do to combat this struggle is normalizing the topic and discussing it as equals. Great project.

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