POCATELLO — An Idaho State University freshman has helped author a free mental health guidebook, which includes data from her nationwide survey of how high school and college students are coping amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Emma Watts, who graduated from Century High School last spring, collaborated on the project with Princeton University students Preeti Chemiti and Eric Lin.
Their publication, “Mind Matters,” includes more than 80 pages and has been downloaded more than 2,000 times since the three undergraduates released it on Aug. 4. Professionals who work closely with students represent their target audience.
“My whole intention for this ever since the beginning of the summer is for counselors and teachers to understand what students are going through, with the student testimonials, and also to provide resources and discussion questions for them to use to assist themselves and assist the students,” Watts said.
Anyone interested in reading the guidebook may download it for free in PDF form at mindmattersbook.org. They soon plan to self-publish the guidebook in a print format.
Chemiti, of North Dakota, who was a co-author, received $1,500 for the project through a Princeton fellowship. Lin, of Arizona, did the graphic design and has a pending application for additional project funding related to COVID-19.
Watts isn’t receiving any college credit for her work on the project, but she takes pride in knowing her first published work is already making a difference.
“Just knowing that people are using this and over 2,000 people have already downloaded it and are reading it and learning about my work is very rewarding,” Watts said.
Watts and Chemiti met through the week-long United States Senate Youth Program in Washington, D.C., where they were roommates. Chemiti initially sought to provide a mental health curriculum for North Dakota schools. She broadened her scope in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
“I haven’t seen a lot of COVID-specific guidebooks yet,” Watts said.
The book contains an introduction on mental health with pertinent statistics, a section filled with resources and helpful websites, a support section for teachers and counselors and even a subsection addressing mental health concerns among people of color. Case studies in the book — as well as personal opinions on constructive approaches toward managing depression and anxiety — are based on 150 responses, taken from students in every state.
She sent the questionnaire to many of the participants from her U.S. Senate Youth Program, as well as acquaintances made during the National Youth Science Camp she attended. The questionnaire asked students to define mental health, identify what aspects of the crisis made them most anxious about the future and how the crisis has affected their sleeping, eating and exercising habits, among other questions.
Watts said answers were highly variable, with many students living a healthier lifestyle amid the pandemic while others have found it harder to maintain good habits.
Though Watts doesn’t personally struggle with depression, many of her friends take antidepressants, which has raised her awareness about mental health challenges.
She admits her survey was skewed toward high-achievers, but she found a large number of her respondents have been struggling lately, nonetheless. Though just 12.5 percent of the students she surveyed indicated they are using a counseling service, 40.8 percent of them said they would use a counseling service if one were made available to them.
Watts empathized with many of the students in her survey who voiced disappointment about having nontraditional high school graduation ceremonies, anxiety about how the new school year will progress and concerns about parents, grandparents and other at-risk populations.
“I wasn’t too surprised in how other students were feeling because I was feeling the same way,” Watts said.
She and her two colleagues from Princeton have been conducting outreach with school administrators and officials throughout the country to inform them about their publication. It’s been well received by reviewers thus far.
Karen L. of New Jersey called the guidebook “engaging, clear and powerful.”
“In the midst of a pandemic, ‘Mind Matters’ is an essential resource for students and educators in need of crucial mental health resources,” Karen L. wrote. “The teens’ thoughtful and thorough research is a must for all schools.”
Richard Pongratz, director of counseling services at ISU, added, “‘Mind Matters’ offers students an opportunity to know that others feel as they do. By using the book with groups of students, it facilitates student connection and sharing. The student testimonials also give teachers and administrators a better understanding of the thoughts and struggles faced by young people in the COVID era.”