Even at the national conference of the American Psychological Association (APA), with thousands of psychology professionals and students of all backgrounds discussing research related to psychology, Devon Clayton stands out.
Clayton, a fourth-year counseling psychology doctoral student and former middle-school history teacher, won Top Poster this year, presenting her research into adolescent mental health in the poster conference for counseling psychology.
“It's cool. It feels empowering that I was able to get this award, just because people care about this,” Clayton says, adding that winning helped validate her sense that her research is highly important to U.S. adolescents and their schools. “It gives me a little more confidence that this research is cool, and that there's good stuff to share.”
The topic of mental health is rapidly gaining attention among adults but is still less widely acknowledged among adolescents in middle and high schools. Clayton’s research followed up a past colleague’s research at a local high school, which had experienced the suicides of five students in two years. In response, the school added a Wellness Center staffed by a counselor, where students could go to calm down when overwhelmed or anxious and to talk with someone if they need to.
Clayton’s research examined students’ perceptions of the Wellness Center to see what was working and what was not.
“I wanted to [talk to] the students because they're the ones who are going to be benefiting from this the most. I want them to have a say in what's going on,” Clayton explains. "We found that there are a lot of benefits, and there are people who are really loving the center.”
The students were allowed to stay in the center for 20 minutes, and most of them typically felt much more prepared to return to class when they left. Unfortunately, it seems that the teachers were the biggest prohibitor of students taking advantage of the Wellness Centers.
“They got a lot of pushback from teachers,” Clayton says. “And the kids feel like sometimes it's easier to go the bathroom than it is to go to the Wellness Center.”
Clayton feels strongly that teachers need to understand the necessity of letting their students address their mental health appropriately. A teacher’s job is to nurture their students to their fullest potential.
“I don't think teachers quite understand how beneficial it can be for students,” she says. “Because let's say students are in distress or [anxious]—they're not learning. It's better just to let them go and then come back when they're prepared.”
This November, Clayton will be defending her dissertation in preparation for submitting it to a journal, where she hopes it will be more widely read, expanding its benefits to more students and schools.
“I want to do a journal that can reach a lot of people and that's hopefully free, "I just want people to know about this research, because I think it's going to be helpful.”
Writer: Lauren Felker
Media Contact: Andrew Devey