A study reported by TODAY says at least 20 U.S. states currently include mental health in their general K-12 health education standards, nine of which are mandated by law. In addition, more states have proposed new legislation that includes this requirement.
The reason for the current focus on mental well being in schools is because students face a wider range of demands that can significantly impact their emotional wellbeing than ever before. From having to meet high academic standards to navigating the pressure-packed world of social media to maintaining healthy relationships with classmates, students today face unprecedented challenges. Add to all this increasingly busy schedules that result in a lack of sleep, limited exercise, and poor nutrition.
On top of school-related issues, students are also dealing with crises on the home front like divorce and abuse.
All of this, taken together, often result in mental health issues that can negatively impact all areas of the lives of students. Mental challenges can result in social, emotional, behavioral, and academic problems.
Recent reports show that student mental health issues are prevalent. According to a National Institutes of Health survey, about one out of two teens between the ages of 13 and 18 has experienced a mental disorder. In addition the National Institutes also reports that suicide is the second-leading cause of death for young people aged 10 to 34.
Because of this, educators have concluded that schools must play a central role in supporting student mental health and well-being.
Mandating that mental health be taught in schools is one significant step states, districts, and schools are taking to address the issue.
Academic content creators, publishers, and educational technology companies must do their part to support educators in keeping kids mentally healthy. This article explains five areas where they can provide support.
1. Talking About Mental Health
Students and educators need to have regular and honest conversations about emotional well being. It helps reduce the stigma related to it. The sooner the conversations start, the better. As mentioned earlier, approximately 50 percent of all teens have experienced a mental health problem. Issues must be identified as early as possible so students can seek treatment before things become serious.
How to help:
- Provide educators with mental health and well-being tips that can be used in morning announcements and assemblies or mentioned in the classroom.
- Create guides on how teachers can identify emotional warning signs and start conversations with their students.
- Offer tips and activities to help teachers talk with young people — and help them cope — after a traumatic event, such as the death of a classmate or teacher or a school shooting. They should help teachers figure out which students aren’t handling things well.
- Supply videos, activities, games, and other resources about typical school and home-related challenges that encourage kids to discuss their situations.
- Develop learning experiences that limit student stress. Offer flexibility. Allow kids to learn at their own pace, taking breaks when anxious or exploring paths they’re more comfortable with.
2. Identifying and Addressing Mental Health Challenges in Students
Teachers need training to identify and respond to signs of emotional issues in kids. Educators are often the only people that children and teens can turn to when they’re in distress. However, many are unprepared to support students directly or to refer them to other resources. Teachers need in-depth training on identifying student issues and tools to help address them when they arise.
How to help:
- Develop presentations for students, staff, and families to learn about mental health and the necessary steps to help someone in need. Cooperative learning can help encourage valuable conversations among students and those who care for them.
- Create comprehensive online guides that discuss the most common mental health illnesses, including crucial questions that educators can ask students and how to address specific issues. They should include tools and resources to help solve everyday problems. Make guides searchable so teachers can identify issues quickly as they arise.
3. Incorporating Mental Health into All Aspects of Education
Integrate health lessons into classwork in a way that doesn’t burden teachers or leave students feeling awkward. For example, a social studies lesson could address mental health topics such as trauma or stigma as part of the overall story. Younger students could learn how to identify, describe, and manage emotions. Older ones may learn about the social implications of different mental health issues and their causes.
How to help:
- Incorporate mental-health-related content into other subjects.
- Social-emotional learning (SEL) teaches kids coping and resiliency skills. Creating content and materials that teach it directly — and incorporating it into different subjects — can help students learn how to deal with challenging situations in the classroom and at home.
Create Helpful Tools for Students
Students often suspect that they may have issues, whether it’s dealing with stress or not thinking correctly. They often seek out information to address what they’re facing. Unfortunately, there are far too many terrible — and even dangerous — resources available online. That’s why schools must make available sound mental health content for students to explore on their own. They should help students determine whether they’re experiencing mental health issues, provide tips on addressing them, and, most importantly, how to get the help they need.
How to help:
- Provide educators with resources they can make available to learners that can help them understand whether they’re dealing with mental help challenges, tools to help address them, and complete information about seeking help. Make tools interactive so today’s learners are more willing to leverage them.
- Also, create posters, emails, social media posts, and other materials that promote the availability of mental health resources and encourage students to take advantage of them.
- Don’t limit promotional tools to pointing to resources you create. Develop ones encouraging young people to connect with a parent, teacher, nurse, or mental health professional if something seems off.
Don’t Forget to Take Care of Teachers
Teachers experience high levels of stress. It can harm students’ social adjustment and academic performance. As you develop mental wellness learning experiences for students, include messaging for teachers that explains that they should seek help if they’re dealing with excessive levels of stress or other emotional issues.
Mental Health Education in Schools: The Final Word
School is where young people go to learn about virtually everything. The classroom is where they should get educated about mental health, as well. Mental health education should aim to destigmatize emotional issues. Helping students and staff identify warning signs, support critical conversations, and provide tools that promote overall health and well-being are foundational things for educational content creators, publishers, and educational technology firms to do. After all, students can’t learn if they’re stressed out or not thinking clearly because of mental health issues.
Need support expanding your organization’s mental health offerings? Contact EdGate to find out how we could help you create new materials and get them approved in school districts across the United States.