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February 21, 2018

Caring for the Mental Health of Students

May is Mental Health Awareness Month: a month to educate the public about mental health illnesses to reduce the stigma surrounding these disorders. There’s an increased focus on young people, as they try to navigate society while managing a very real illness. Children who are suffering from a mental health illness find it very difficult to concentrate, socialize, or learn, which can make going to school an overwhelming and difficult experience.

According to a CDC report1, 1 in every 5 students show signs and symptoms of a mental health issue. Teachers and other education professionals are often among the first to notice that something is happening with a child, and can help to identify the students who may need extra care.

Mental health issues are often invisible. There’s no flashing neon sign, announcement over the PA system, or a nametag on anyone to indicate when someone suffers from a mental illness. Those who do live with a mental health issue are usually exceptionally good at hiding their pain and struggle, so it takes a keen observer, and the training and knowledge of signals and symptoms.  According to Mayo Clinic, there are a few key things to look for in identifying a student struggling with a mental health issue:

Behavior Changes

More often than not, inappropriate or challenging behavior is an indicator of a deeper issue. Even if there’s no mental health issue identified, difficulty with behavior is certainly a flag that something is challenging within a child’s life. Mood changes and intense feelings can also be warning signs.

Change in school performance

A lack of follow-through in assignments, turning in homework, a drop in grades – all are considered warning signs that a student is struggling. The student may find it hard to sit still or to concentrate on his schoolwork.

Physical Symptoms

Frequent headaches or stomach aches, loss of appetite, frequent vomiting or overeating, or self-harm are red flags. A student attempting to self-medicate may present with some sort of substance abuse as well.

Mental Health.gov offers some important insights for how teachers can help with the mental health of students:

  • Be aware of who to contact when you notice a student is experiencing signs of mental illness: a nurse, guidance counselor, or even an administrator.
  • Create a safe and respectful space within the classroom to promote a positive culture.
  • Teach resilience, positive behaviors, and social and emotional competency.
  • Engage in conversation, and listen!    

Students who have a strong connection to a caring adult often succeed in the face of mental health struggles. You can make a difference just by being present, aware, and showing concern. Explore the importance of this adult connection further with our free, on-demand webinar, The Teen Scene: Understanding What Teens are Thinking & Doing…and Why. This webinar features Dr. David Walsh, who shares his research based knowledge and advice for having healthy conversations and strategies for working through challenges presented by teens.

Sources:

  • Depression. (2016, March 30). Retrieved May 04, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/basics/mental-illness/depression.htm
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