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Promoting Student Mental Health



student mental health

Approximately 20% of school-age children experience some form of mental health issue before the age of 18. [1] Around half of all mental disorders develop by mid-teens. [2] These are alarming statistics, especially when considering that around one in three children is bullied by their peers during school. [3]

It is a vital period in the mental health of growing children and young adults, and the more schools promote the well-being of their students, the higher the likelihood that those statistics will change for the better.

A positive and healthy student body will allow for increased confidence, greater strength in adversity, a more thorough educational experience, and a decrease in risks for mental health disorders later in life.

Understanding Student Mental Health

Life outside of school will affect students’ mental health and how they will find themselves reacting to things in the classroom. Often this can be confusing for them because they cannot link cause and effect between seemingly unrelated stressors in their everyday life with specific moments of anxiety, fear, or anger during class hours.

There are also physical lifestyle changes that will have a significant impact on mental health, but children and young adults are often unaware of the connection. For example, changes in eating, sleeping, or exercise habits will have a positive or negative effect on mental well-being, but students may not be aware of that. [4]

Trends in Schools

Minority students are more likely to develop mental health disorders that affect statistics like graduation and grades. Also, being from a low-income family increases the risks as well. The top trends in schools regarding how negative mental health impacts a student’s future include the following.

  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Increased risk of developing significant mental health disorders
  • Increased risk of dropping out (grades 9-10 are most vulnerable time)[5]
  • Increased risk of entering into the juvenile justice system

issues students mental health

What Issues are Affecting Young People?

It is impossible to include all of the significant problems affecting young people in the world today. They range from systemic racism within the school and justice system to LGBTQ+ issues and classism. We will narrow it down to the most pertinent factors discovered by researchers that determined a higher risk of drop out and the development of mental health disorders in children and young adults:

  • Not feeling safe at school or not “fitting in”
  • Being forced to work after school (or instead of attending school) to support their family
  • A vast difference between the racial profiles of students compared to teachers (e.g., majority-white teachers for majority Latino, Black, or Native students)
  • High-stress exams
  • A higher instance of cyberbullying and other forms of online abuse
  • Pregnancy
  • Substance abuse

How Do Teachers and Staff Feel About Mental Health in Schools?

A survey by the University of Michigan revealed that 99% of all teachers felt that addressing the mental health of students was a part of their job as a teacher. [6] Millions of students deal with mental health issues every year, and only a tiny percentage of schools provide training for their teachers to assist students with these issues. [7]

Most students and teachers agree that when schools focus more on grades and exams than the mental well-being of their students, it is a problem. Both teachers and parents who have been surveyed believe that the government should make changes to the focus of the educational system to make it prioritise students’ mental and physical health.

The Role of Schools in Promoting Student Mental Health

Most students spend approximately 180 hours every year in school. [8] That is a considerable influence on the life of young people. Academic achievement and mental health should be equally supported by schools and teachers to provide students with the best chance of having a fulfilling, healthy, and productive life.

It is estimated that around 60% of students do not receive the support and help they need for mental health. [9] Schools that are equipped to pick up the slack in this area can provide their students with a better quality of life and higher chances of success as adults.

How Common are Mental Health Issues Among Students?

Among school-aged children and young adults in 90 countries surveyed by the World Health Organisation, 9.1% committed suicide. Russia and the United States accounted for 37.3% of that number. [10] There is still a lot of work to be done globally in creating support for students dealing with mental health disorders.

More common disorders include the following.

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • ADHD
  • Bipolar Disorder

Statistically, every single classroom will have multiple students suffering from some degree of mental illness. By far, the highest percentage is with anxiety and depression, which is present in 73.8% of the student body, meaning three out of four children between the ages of 3 and 17 years of age will have one of those disorders. [11]

social media mental health

Social Media and Students Mental Health

Cyberbullying is a huge issue when it comes to student health. Due to the relative anonymity that comes with posting online, there is a higher probability that friends will end up bullying each other. There is research supporting the finding that students who are the subject of cyberbullying are likely to suffer the following symptoms.

  • Stomach upset
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

The combination of being bullied at school in person and then online was shown to have the worst outcome with successful suicide attempts being common among those students. More needs to be done by schools and educators to create an environment where cyberbullying and online harassment is not allowed.

Why are School Years Key in Establishing Good Mental Health?

A person’s life trajectory is being focused and directed during the school years. When that time is spent with untreated or under-treated mental health disorders, it affects every part of that child’s life when they grow older. The likelihood of being unable to perform as a productive member of society increases with each mental health risk factor.[11]

The longer mental health issues go unchecked, the worse they affect the person living with them. Students who develop them and do not have access to help or support are more likely to have an increase in negative symptoms as time progresses. This can lead to dropping out, suicide, or extreme behaviour problems.

Signs That Students Could Be Struggling With Mental Health

Students may not come forward and ask for help for several reasons, including being scared or simply not understanding how they feel. There are some signs to keep an eye out, indicating that a student may be mentally struggling with school or their home life.

  • Sudden personality changes (e.g., an outgoing student suddenly being withdrawn)
  • Verbally expressing worries and concerns
  • Violent mood swings or outbursts
  • Obvious sleep disturbances (e.g., always tired)
  • Unusual changes to eating habits (e.g., no longer eating during lunches or being sick)
  • Use of addictive substances
  • Risky behaviours
  • Avoidance of typical social situations
  • Mentions of suicidal ideations or intentions

Key Features of Promoting Mental Health and Wellbeing in Schools

There are several different ways that individual schools can address mental health. They include the following:

In this approach, every layer of the educational system is involved from teachers and supervisors to fellow students and parents.

There are classes and support for staff, parents, and students regarding their mental and physical health.

There is a greater focus on the school staff and educators with this approach. They create a safe, encouraging environment for students to learn how to strive despite adversity.

Positive self-esteem, confidence, and a focus on the bright side of situations are critical. [12]

Mental and physical health are tightly linked. Providing information to students on how their physical lifestyle affects their psychological well-being and vice versa has been proven to help increase positive mental health.

This approach teaches students how to connect with their emotions and learn to balance them. Regulating feelings is a great way to remain in control and healthily learn self-discipline.

It also allows for better social communication between students and staff.

Being respectful of others and looking at situations through a positive lens is integral to this approach at creating a healthy student body.

Teachers treat students with respect, and students do the same with each other. This is a great way to learn how to create lasting and beneficial relationships.

Stress and Anxiety in Schools: The Causes

The number one stressor in a school environment is the exam process. Most schools focus more on academic achievements than on the actual health of the student body. This is something all schools struggle with to a degree and would best be helped by having government support for a healthier approach. However, educators and parents can work together to create a less stressful environment for students.

The most common sources of everyday stress for students from primary school through college include the following.

  • Peer pressure
  • Tests and pressure for academic success
  • Too much-assigned homework
  • P.E. Classes and events due to body image issues
  • Public speaking
  • Preparedness drills (e.g., fire, tornado, shooting drills, etc.)
  • Overscheduled school days
  • Parental pressure
  • Financial concerns

Stress-Related Disorders Pupils Can Develop

Many children and young adults suffer from stress-related disorders or other behavioural disorders. Statistically, the highest percentage of them have one or more of the following.

  • Depression
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Various Sleep Disorders
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Acute Stress Disorder (ASD)
  • Substance abuse

Ways that Teachers Can Limit Student Stress

The physical set up of the room will make a difference in the stress level. It is recommended by experts in child mental health that there is a quiet, comfortable area where they can be slightly set apart when necessary to de-stress. Also, excess energy is an issue for children stuck in classrooms all day, so having standing desks available or a time for moving around can help retain overall focus.

These are some ways to limit stress in the classroom.

  • Keep homework to a minimum
  • Add movement into your daily classes
  • Play classical music in the background
  • For younger students, it is helpful to have a time set aside expressly for organising desk space
  • Dedicate a part of each class to listening and responding to student concerns (5-7 minutes is enough time to make a difference)

Quick Ways for Students to Destress

These are some straightforward and efficient ways to de-stress for students of all age groups. There are a few excellent exercises that should be employed by all age groups. For example, relaxation breathing techniques are helpful for primary to college-age students.

Art is an excellent tool for primary school children. Having them draw out their stressful feelings on paper will help them get it out into a concrete form. You can then have them use a therapy exercise where they shred or crumple the picture to eradicate the negative emotions symbolically.

You can talk them through creating an imaginary bubble around themselves as a way to keep stressful stimuli separate.

Muscle relaxation techniques come in a lot of different forms. Some can be done sitting down at a desk, and they help with immediate relaxation and de-stressing. Science has also shown that classical music works to lessen stress and facilitate physical relaxation.

Focusing on the present is important for stress reduction in adults. Primarily the stresses are related to things that have not actually happened yet (e.g., paying next month's bills, future exams, etc.).

There are many ways to remain mindful, including breathing and relaxation exercises. You can also visualize calming places as a way to focus your thoughts.

Steps to Take to Promote Student Mental Health

Most of the suggestions for keeping balanced mental health are ones that we all know, such as eating right, exercising, and staying on a proper sleep schedule. Below is a full list of useful steps and tips for beating day-to-day stress in the classroom.

  • Meditation or relaxing activities (e.g., yoga, deep breathing, guided meditation, muscle relaxation, etc.)
  • Artistic outlets including music, drawing, painting, writing, or any other creative task that brings joy and comfort
  • Socializing with positive, supportive peers
  • Taking time away from technology is one of the most reliable ways to cut stress (e.g., read a book instead of surfing on your phone)
  • Journaling, vlogging, or otherwise finding a way to express your emotions and log your day-to-day life
  • Volunteering has been shown to decrease stress and increase self-confidence
  • Spending time with your pets is good for both you and your animal friend
  • Find something to laugh about (e.g., stand-up comedy hour, humorous book, cat videos, etc.) and let yourself enjoy the moment

Several Apps to Improve Student Mental Health

  • CALM
  • Healthy Minds
  • Moodpath
  • Talkspace

tips for teachers

12 Tips for Teachers to Help With Student’s Mental Health

Are you a teacher looking for some guidance on how to make mental health a priority in the classroom? Look no further. The guide we have provided below rounds up all aspects of emotional health and mental wellbeing, especially for children and young adults. They are:

  1. Treat every student as a new opportunity to support a growing mind
  2. Find techniques that work well with students, but do not be surprised if you sometimes need to try alternatives
  3. Do not judge your students based on their classroom behaviours and instead be understanding and guide them towards learning skills for coping with their emotional outbursts
  4. Do not expect perfection from every student and allow them to make mistakes
  5. Do your best to decrease stress by not shaming students for things they cannot control or falling behind their peers
  6. Find science-based stress relief programs and try implementing them in your coursework
  7. Always find something praiseworthy in your students and be vocal about letting them know when they have done well on something
  8. Know what accommodations are available for struggling students
  9. When facing a problematic student confer with them in private rather than using the classroom as a place to shame them
  10. Be kind and patient. You do not know what your students live through daily, and their actions are reflections of their mental state, so if they are struggling, then it is the time for support and encouragement, not judgment
  11. Communicate frequently and clearly with parents so that you are all on the same page
  12. Treat yourself kind, and make sure to take parts of each day and set them aside for your mental health

Ways Schools Can Improve on Mental Health Frameworks

Turning schools into a place where children can learn to cope with real-world stress healthily and positively will help them achieve academic and professional success. The government and individual school faculty should be focusing on implementing the following frameworks for improving their student’s mental health and overall education.

  • Rebalance the system so that qualifications and well-being have equal importance
  • Make positive mental health for students and teachers fundamental and require it as vital in Ofsted inspections
  • Make sure teachers are equipped to offer healthy mental health advice to students
  • Increase resources in schools for mental health
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References:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4477835/

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1925038/

[3] https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/bullying-school-violence-unesco-report/

[4] https://nami.org/Support-Education/Publications-Reports/Guides/Starting-the-Conversation

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2099272/

[6] https://www.jstor.org/stable/1002138?seq=1

[7] https://ibcces.org/blog/2019/03/09/mental-health-crisis-schools/

[8] https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/sass/tables/sass0708_035_s1s.asp

[9] https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/mental-health/school-psychology-and-mental-health/school-based-mental-health-services

[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1414751/

[11] https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html

[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5455867/

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