Bridging the Gap

Understanding mental illnesses in students from low and high income families

This project is a requirement of the GOA Abnormal Psychology Course. Using the process of design thinking, a challenge in the world of mental health was identified, interviews and research were undertaken, and a solution prototype was developed. Below you will find information about the identified area of concern and my proposed solution. Please feel free to provide feedback on this prototype, using questions such as “How might we…”, “What if….?”, “I wonder….”, “I like…”, and “I wish.” Keep the comments positive, please. For more information on the process of Design Thinking, click here.


I attend a private Catholic school where the majority of the students come from high income families. The school is located in Atherton, California, which is one of the most expensive places to live in the country. There are numerous students whose families are not wealthy. In a culture where extreme wealth is normal and sometimes expected, these students feel ostracized. The goal of this project is to facilitate conversations about how poverty or low socioeconomic status can affect the mental health of students, and how that manifests itself in their daily lives.


Those who feel ostracized often act out to deal with their emotions. Studies have been conducted all over the country addressing the fact that those living in poverty are more likely to be affected by severe mental illnesses. This prevents students from succeeding in school and makes them more likely to be involved in the juvenile justice agency.

Research conducted by Anandi Mani, Sendhil MullainathanEldar Shafir, and Jiaying Zhao revealed that “The condition of poverty imposed a mental burden akin to losing 13 IQ points.” In my community there are few to no students living in extreme poverty, however there are plenty of students on financial aid. The bottom line is, poverty puts extreme stress on the mind and body and can weaken a student’s performance in school. 


Below are the first few questions of a survey all students at my school will complete anonymously. We will give each English teacher papers for all their students, and everyone will complete it at the same time. Before they complete the survey, the teachers will hold a class discussion about what it means to live in poverty. What defines someone as “impoverished?” The class will come up with their own definition of poverty, and they will be shared in a powerpoint during the assembly.

After the papers are collected, students will gather in the assembly hall and the surveys will be randomly given out. No one will have their own survey. Each question will be read aloud, and students will stand up depending on whether their survey indicated “Yes” or “No.” The goal of this is to give students a better understanding of the people they go to school with. Everyone is fighting a battle that we are completely oblivious to, and it is important that we acknowledge this.


My next step is to work with my school counselor and the administration to discuss how to move forward. We must set aside an assembly day in the schedule. Since the schedules are planned out months in advance, this survey will probably not be conducted until the fall.

My biggest concern is making sure the survey touches every aspect of this topic, but asks questions in a considerate way. I would to hear any and all feedback/criticism! Also, feel free to ask questions (“What if….? How might we….? I wonder…..?”)



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