Chandler teens study peers’ mental health - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler teens study peers’ mental health

January 7th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Chandler teens study peers’ mental health
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Santan Sun News Staff

For more than 10 years, Chandler residents Chandan and Shamala Chickmenahalli have been working to develop “STEM belongingness” among K-12 children in the Valley.

They also are creating learning opportunities for underprivileged children in the state of Assam in India, one of that country’s poorest regions, by building libraries there and already have one branch in operation.

Their activities both here and in India are unified by a concern for students’ mental health.

Shamala, the mother of twin teenagers and a professor of electrical engineering at Arizona State University, said she and her husband have felt a particularly strong urgency about addressing children’s and teens’ mental health ever since the pandemic began.

So Shamala has undertaken a research project that involved four Chandler teens and a student in Illinois that had them examine and write about the pandemic’s impact on them, particularly their mental health.

She also wanted the student participants to learn something beyond expressing their experiences.

“The focus of this work was to enable the teens understand the research process, learn the elements of a research survey based on their topic, use clear and objective process in making up their questions, learn to discuss and implement feedback from experts in the field, brainstorm ways to gather survey responses, learn analysis methods to study survey results and represent their results using graphical methods and tools,” she said.

She also hopes the ongoing study will yield insights into teens’ mental health and develop an action plan than can “be communicated to community, city, state and national levels.”

The local teens included: Sripriya Srinivas and Karthik Srinivas, students at Horizon Honors High School in Ahwatukee; Hamilton High students Sthuthi Das and Saba Shakir; and Akshay Harish, a recent graduate of  the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a degree in molecular and cellular biology.

“We saw our peers struggling with declining mental health, unhealthy addictions to both substances and video games, panic attacks and anxiety, and the effect of social media on teens’ bodies and to the extent of affecting who they are as individuals – so we asked ourselves what we could do to help,” they wrote in their research paper.

They developed a questionnaire that people between the ages of 14 and 19 could answer anonymously that probed how the respondents’ mental health was impacted by their home life, substance abuse,  technology and remote learning and the loss of family members of friends during the pandemic.

To find respondents, they posted the questionnaires on social media sites and handed them out at gyms and stores. They also posted them at the Chickmenahallis’ website for their library project in India, chandanshamalalibrary.com because they sought an international perspective to their work.

The students probed several areas. In response to questions about anxiety, those who answered cited various causes, though nearly half blamed bullying, overprotective parents or other outside influences and three-quarters “who experienced anxiety reported that they have not received help,” they wrote.

They reported that a vast majority of respondents claimed that social media and technology “opened up multiple opportunities to stay connected to people and stay involved.”

The five students indicated they want to continue their research but also suggested professionals should also expand on their study and devote time to analyzing teens’ mental health and emotional well-being.

They said teens should take up arts and crafts or other hobbies to relieve their mental stress and that “having a good support system can also help.”

“Parents can help their kids by helping them find new hobbies and interests while helping with managing time,” they wrote. “They should ask their kids what they think would help most. Schools should teach more about mental health and how to deal with stressful situations. In most schools, psychology is only an elective option and most people don’t learn anything about mental health unless they take this course.

“There should be more resources at schools, since that is where students spend most of their time. Communities can support teenagers by advocating for changes and providing more resources for help and mental health education. We believe that the most important thing to remember is that teenagers all deal with things differently and each person wants support in a different way. Parents, schools, and communities should take teens’ opinions on what they think would help them the most.”

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