At school, you see one of your students struggling with mental health and wonder what you can do to help and support them through challenging times. Bringing up mental health awareness is essential to recognize how mental health conditions impact our students' lives and to highlight how we can advocate for it. Educators are often the first line of defense for our students. Children and youth with mental health challenges sometimes face difficulty in schools for various reasons. Accessing services that help today’s youth in schools as well as understanding mental health can aid in better managing and supporting your student’s mental health needs.
1 in 5 children and youth have a diagnosable emotional, behavioral, or mental health disorder, and 1 in 10 young people have a severe mental health challenge that can impair how they function at home, school, or community (Problems at School). In school, our students can encounter several difficulties. Some students may manage these better than others. Many students experience anxiety, ranging from minor symptoms such as feeling sad or excessive fears and worries to more serious ones like panic attacks. Ignoring these signals might result in depression, poor performance, and a higher chance of substance dependence (Depression and Anxiety, 2010).
There are many ways that schools can help our students with their mental health. For example, some schools offer social-emotional learning (SEL). It is an educational method that aims to foster social and emotional skills, develop self-awareness and self-control, and can assist in improving our student’s academic performance. Furthermore, not every student has a trusted person at home. Some students spend most of their time in school, sometimes even more than at home (Neolth). Schools have behavioral counselors that can provide 1:1 access to resources and better understand where the student is coming from. Regular check-ins, safe spaces, and peer-support groups are included as well.
Here are some ways you can help a student’s mental health needs:
Early Intervention: Noticing changes in behavior and thinking can help identify mental health struggles. These symptoms include mood changes, nervousness, withdrawals, a decrease in academic performance, etc.
Boosting Students’ Self-Esteem: During this time, students are often forming relationships and self-worth. It’s essential to encourage them and increase availability with counseling.
Validating Student Feelings: While some behaviors may be frustrating, understand that these are students, and it may not be their intention. This helps the student feel understood and helps build trust in the relationship.
Support their healthy behaviors: Getting enough sleep, eating healthy, getting plenty of exercise, and taking breaks when needed can be helpful to students in managing their mental health.
Taking care of yourself: It can be stressful and sometimes challenging to take care of a student struggling with mental health, and that’s okay! Take time for yourself, find something you can do to relax, and check out free support groups if you need to!
If a student is struggling with their mental health, the first thing you can do is reach out and start a conversation. Educate yourself on the realities of living with mental health issues and confront any feeling of stigma you may have. Supporting those in your life can spread the message of awareness and acceptance and change a student’s life for the better! We may not all know what to say to a student or how to help, but we’re not alone. Reaching out and conversing can help as we strive to create a better place for our students in schools.