As a teacher, you already know you have to wear many hats every day. You’re more than just an educator. You’re a leader, a friend, and an advocate. You may be the biggest source of inspiration and comfort in a student’s day.
Because of that, you have an opportunity to take your advocate role and use it for the sake of your students’ mental health.
The last year has been challenging for everyone. Even at the beginning of the pandemic, one survey found that 29% of parents believed their child’s mental or emotional health was already harmed due to uncertainty and fear.
Taking the pandemic out of the equation, kids have to deal with a lot of daily stress. Whether it’s handling a hard home life, dealing with social issues, or struggling in school, it’s not uncommon for their mental health to suffer.
So, what can you do to be a better advocate?
Implement Healthy Coping Mechanisms
When your students trust you, the best way you can be an advocate for their mental health is to listen and guide. You can take charge of a variety of different stress-reducing techniques throughout the day in your classroom. Try to implement some of the following into your daily class routine:
- Light exercise
- Sharing gratitude
Mindfulness is another great way to reduce stress in and out of the classroom. Depending on the age of your students, try things like breathing exercises or intention setting. Simple breathing exercises can completely change the energy of your classroom and leave your students in a calmer state, ready to focus and learn.
Even just a few minutes of these practices each day can help your students release feelings of anxiety and stress.
Of course, they’ll benefit even more if they can continue those practices at home. If a student comes to you to express that they're struggling with anxiety or depression, talk to their family members. Work together to come up with ways they can cope both in school and at home, including discussing things that might need to be limited. For example, if a student goes home each day and binge-watches their favorite shows, it could decrease their dopamine activity and leave them feeling depressed. Try working with their parents to encourage limiting TV viewing and adding other activities, like spending time outside or finding a creative outlet.
Fight for Positive Changes
If you want to be an advocate for all students, not just the ones in your classroom, you can take your concerns to your area school board or superintendent. You can even go to your local government to fight for better mental health services in area schools. If your district doesn’t currently have those services, make them aware of the benefits, including:
- Giving kids a natural, familiar setting to share their struggles
- Convenient access for families
- Increased staff knowledge of signs of mental health issues
- Destigmatizing mental health in the district
Far too often, students don’t come forward with their mental health struggles because they have heard negative stereotypes about such things or they might not know who to turn to for help. Make your role as an advocate known. Even if you can only help one student at a time, it gives you a great start and opens the door for other teachers to see how important students’ mental health really is.
If you can get your local government or district involved, you can help to cut down on student depression and anxiety. As a result, you may even save lives. The conversations surrounding kids and mental health in this country are changing, and you can be a part of the movement simply by caring for your students and letting them know you’re there for support.