In the United States, school mental health is typically defined as the caring and professional support that schools provide to students with mental health needs.
Schools are uniquely positioned to make a difference in student mental health by providing opportunities for role modeling, prevention of suicide, and general social acceptance.
However, there has been little change in school mental health over the past thirty years despite calls for reform from parents, administrators, and students.
With many schools reaching record-breaking low scores on state assessments, a movement for change is underfoot.
Dealing with the mental health of students has become a big topic over the last few years.
One of the most pressing questions that has been on many people’s minds is;
“Why are so many schools failing to develop student mental health in a way that would keep students safe?”
There are many answers to this question, however the most obvious is that the job of a schoolteacher is to teach students.
Teachers are already very busy and adding yet another responsibility to their lesson plans would be too much to handle.
Due to the pressure on time and training for teachers, many schools have turned to trained school counsellors to take on the job of dealing with student mental health.
Other schools have also developed a mental health program that includes a crisis team, as well as social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists who come into the school and deal with students with issues.
The common solution that schools are using to deal with the growing problem of student mental health is a restructuring of how students are taught.
Schools can reduce feelings of social isolation and increase feelings of belonging among students by establishing positive connections between students and adults in the school.
The big problem that schools face when trying to develop student mental health is that they are trying to do it all at once.
If schools choose to focus on one aspect of student mental health it can quickly become overwhelming for educators, causing them to lose sight of another aspect.
One example of this is focusing too much time on how students are feeling about themselves and not enough time on how teachers feel about their students.
A school-based mental health program has many allies.
Parents, students, teachers and others realize that the pressures on students have increased over the years and that a high-performing student must have an effective coping mechanism.
Therefore, a major focus of these programs is to provide coping mechanisms for students.
A major focus of school-based mental health efforts is to provide emotional support, as well as a feeling of belonging.
Schools can provide emotional support to students by having a nurse on hand who can show students that they are not alone and that everything will be ok.
Teachers can also become part of the mental health conversation by talking about their feelings and concerns with students.
Students are also more likely to talk with the teacher if they feel heard and understood. This type of approach may seem simplistic, but it has been proven to work in time and is worth implementing.
Some students might be struggling with depression, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, and loneliness.
Teachers are often surprised by the range of student mental health problems that they encounter in schools. A common misconception is that mental health is a problem that only impacts a small number of students in the school.
This is not true, and the prevalence of mental health problems can be higher than the general population.
Another misconception is that students dealing with mental health issues are typically those who are misbehaving. This again is not true because many students with mental health issues are doing well in school and society.
It is easy to say that addiction, depression, and teenage suicide are caused by drugs, alcohol and social media.
However, the reality is that there are many contributing factors to mental health issues.
The major causes of mental health problems focus on the relationship between:
- Trauma and brain development.
- Poverty, racism, and school failure exacerbate trauma.
- Early childhood adversity leads to depression, addiction & suicide later in life.
- Social Media, isolation, race, and gun violence.
The most important thing to remember about mental health in schools is that there is no one cause of mental health problems, and it usually does not happen overnight.
Teachers and parents must be able to look at a child’s life as a whole to draw conclusions about their life outside of school.
School mental health can be considered to have three pillars or three major areas in which students are impacted: academic success, developing relationships with teachers and students, feeling connected to other students and feeling that they belong in the school.
When students have a strong sense of belonging, they are more likely to walk in the hallways with a feeling of pride.
This is because they have a feeling that they belong in the school and as such, feel comfortable showing their true personality to other students and teachers.
There is also a connection between a sense of belonging and academic success because students are more likely to take pride in their school work if they feel that their presence at the school is meaningful and relevant.
If one or more of these pillars of mental health in schools is not working properly, it will greatly affect students’ overall mental health.
The goal of school mental health is to help students to be able to cope with the mental health issues that come along with the stress of today’s world.
This will lead to a decrease in absenteeism, more student-teacher interactions and overall, more engaged students.
Reducing absenteeism will allow for a better understanding of what causes students to miss school which can further lead to dealing with their anxiety symptoms.
School mental health is also about students feeling connected and part of the school community.
This connection, however, does not have to be physical. It can also be emotional and social.
For example, talking with a counselor or nurse can make students feel more connected to their school.
Schools are very effective at dealing with physical problems; however, they are less effective at dealing with mental health issues.
Therefore, some schools may have to search for outside assistance from counselors and other mental health professionals to better deal with student mental health problems.
Behavioral problems such as aggressive or disruptive behaviors are common in students who experience certain types of traumas such as early childhood adversity and bullying victimization.
Schools can do several things to help students with mental health problems:
It is also important for parents, teachers and counselors to be aware that students who fall into one of the categories above are at an increased risk of having a mental health problem, are at an increased risk of developing an addiction problem and are also at an increased risk of engaging in self-harming behaviors.
To help students deal with the adversities they are facing, schools need to be aware that these students may be unable to learn effectively on a day-to-day basis.
Teachers must also be able to understand what causes these students to underperform in school.
This can become difficult to do, but with the availability of many resources, these challenges can be dealt with.
To improve school mental health, schools also need to work on:
- Improving student connectedness and sense of belonging.
- Identifying signs of serious mental health issues in students and acting when appropriate.
- Providing resources for students in need.
- Creating a culture in the school that emphasizes mental health issues.
- Monitoring student progress and adjusting interventions accordingly.
- Ensuring that the teachers are aware of mental health problems and that they have adequate training in dealing with them.
- Improving communication between parents, teachers, and students.
- Promoting positive coping skills for stress management among students.
- Developing emergency plans for responding to crises in schools involving mental health problems.
Counseling is a profession that provides help to people with problems that affect their emotions and their life in general. The counselors can be individuals or organizations like schools, hospitals, companies, and governments.
Counselors are usually trained to teach methods of learning different content areas and ways to deal with anxiety and stress, depression, learning disabilities and other difficulties that affect students’ performance at school.
There are several organizations such as teaching groups and individual counselors who have a wide range of experience in dealing with children’s mental health issues in schools.
These organizations are useful in guiding teachers and parents on how to help students experience mental health problems.
Schools that follow these procedures are likely to help fewer students feel isolated, less anxious, and more engaged in school.