Critical Mental Health Issues in the Classroom

 Critical Mental Health Issues in the Classroom  

 Gloria Tippmann & Kim Kelly  

 

 photo credit: https://hbr.org/2018/10/ais-potential-to-diagnose-and-treat-mental-illne...

 

What is Mental Health?

According to mentalhealth.gov, mental health is defined as a person’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It can affect how a person feels, thinks, and acts. Mental health also refers to how a person handles stressors and makes choices in their lives. Mental health can be influenced by many issues such as biological factors, prior traumas, or history of mental health problems in the family. Mental health problems are common and people can receive help from a numerous amount of resources.

Mental health and mental illness are often subjects of confusion and social stigma. Mental illness has been a taboo topic for a very long time, but according to the social activist organization Active Minds, the most recent generation of young adults is more likely than previous generations to speak about their mental health and mental illness conditions. Everyone must be concerned with their mental health and finding a balance within their life, especially if they are experiencing some form of mental illness.

 

What Does the Research Say?

In today’s world, children experience significant challenges in their personal lives as well as at school. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for people ages 10-24, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Additionally, NAMI states that 1 in every 5 children ages 13-18 have or will have a mental illness condition. It is highly likely that teachers will encounter students experiencing these mental health struggles so it is important to work against the stigma attached to them. Even if a student is not experiencing a diagnosed mental illness, stressful events such as a divorce, a death in the family, or absent guardians can lead to increased anxiety and mental health strains.

According to “Social and  Emotional Learning: A Framework for Promoting Mental Health and  Reducing Risk Behavior in Children and Youth” in The Journal of School Health, research shows that it is beneficial to implement social and emotional learning (SEL) programs in schools because they strengthen students’ recognition of emotions, appreciation of the perspectives of others, problem solving skills, and the ability to handle developmentally relevant skills (p. 179). According to Nayar and Hagen, yoga is a positive tool used to train the mind and balance emotions. The implementation of yoga in schools is becoming more and more popular. Schools who use yoga or similar tools for mindfulness have seen bad behavior decline over time.

 

Tips and Strategies for Positive Mental Health

1. Families

Healthy habits and self-image begin with the family. It is essential that children have positive influences in regard to mental health. Although instilling healthy habits cannot guarantee children will not experience struggles with their mental health, it can help them to be better prepared when these do come along. There are many different tips and strategies recommended for families to use to promote and maintain positive mental health. Families can look to resources like the CDC where they list symptoms and treatments. Families can even try implementing yoga in their daily lives to promote mindfulness. Classroommentalhealth.org has many tips for positive mental health. Resources like 100 ways to help your child succeed, 12 questions every parent should ask, and a list of national organizations that can help when a child is struggling with mental health. The main idea for families is that mental health needs to be taken seriously. Caregivers and those close to a student with mental health issues may be the first people to notice a difference in a student and can be the first to guide them to the right places in order to receive help.

2. Teachers

Teachers are a huge influence in a child’s life and they can have an impact on their student’s mental health. In the classroom, it is beneficial for a teacher to not only explain what mental health is, but to also use positive mental health strategies in the classroom. It is vital that teachers become aware of the warning signs of mental health struggles so that they might be able to assist students in times of need. Teachers can use websites like classroommentalhealth.org where they can find ways to teach about mental health, implement healthy mental health practices, and distribute information for mental health resources to students and families.  

 

 photo credit: guyanachronicle.com/2018/09/10/tackling-mental-health-in-schools

Resources 

MentalHealth.gov

https://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/educators

This site provides educators with information to educators of all grade levels about different aspects of mental health and mental illness. There are suggested steps for teachers who believe a student may be suffering from mental illness. Warning signs of possible mental health issues are also listed for teachers to be aware of. Additional resources are available through this site.


Classroom Mental Health

https://classroommentalhealth.org/

This website focuses on preparing teachers of high school students to recognize signs of different issues. There are also suggestions for teachers to provide students with the best support systems and mentally healthy environments that they can. There is a focus on community support as well and provides information about how other students and families can look out for those experiencing difficulties.

 

CDC

https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/index.html

The website provides information on the mental health and wellness of young children. There is an emphasis on how children can be taught to cope with struggles in healthy ways as they are reaching developmental milestones which will have strong effects on their future reactions to difficulties.

 

Social and Emotional Learning: A Framework for Promoting Mental Health and Reducing Risk Behavior in Children and Youth

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1746-1561.2000.tb06468.x

This article describes the ways in which adults can help support the formation of healthy reactions and thoughts when students experience difficulties. We learn from actions we see around us and it is important that students have strong examples when they are forming their ideas about how to cope with difficulties. Mentally healthy habits can be incorporated into the curriculum and students can be provided with additional support, should they need it.

 

Yoga for Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Well-Being: Research Review and Reflections on the Mental Health Potentials of Yoga

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3980104/

This article focuses on how yoga can help to instill healthy habits in children as they are able to relax and focus on their emotional wellbeing. It discusses the demands the modern world places on children and how these expectations can cause great amounts of stress. This stress and mental strain can be relieved through yoga and meditation as students are able to think through their feelings and give themselves time to unwind.

 

Mental Health Lesson Plans

http://canwetalk.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/COOR-79l-2016-03-CWT-lesson-plans.pdf

This resource provides many different ideas for lesson plans for talking and learning about mental health in the classroom. First, the stigma of mental illness is addressed. There are many different activities, materials, and learning objectives listed. This resource is mostly for older students, but can be implemented in middle school.

 

Trauma

https://traumasensitiveschools.org

This resourceful website has many different tabs. One has information about the problems and solutions with trauma in school-age children. Another lists a number of resources for creating and maintaining safe and supportive schools. There are publications available to anyone, they only ask for a small donation or you can download the information for free.

 

The Trevor Project LGBTQ

https://www.thetrevorproject.org/#sm.000011niflu8pyeeiwozp86544v5k

This website is a resource for crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ youth. They have educational resources for teachers and workshops/trainings for those that want to become “youth-servicing professionals.” They have a tab for more information on how to get involved with this project

 

Working with Families

https://classroommentalhealth.org/working-with-families/

This is a site with plenty of tips for teachers, families, and students on how to create a healthy and safe environment in and out of the classroom in order for students to have positive mental health. The main goal is for teachers to understand that they are mental health gatekeepers. Teachers work so closely with such a vulnerable population and they need to know the proper ways to deal with different situations--but they are not mental health professionals.

 

Talking to Parents about Student Mental Health

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/b8d7/99e1719781ce304ff84d8dd4850669c29d44.pdf

This document is a graduate students’ thesis on how to talk to parents about student mental health. The main focus is the idea that parents and teachers are on the same team and collaboration is key to the success of this relationship. There is a lot of statistical information provided throughout.

 

Visual Aids:

https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Infographics/Children-MH-Facts-NAMI.pdf

Infographic showing statistics of mental health issues in children

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kmSinPMVU2U&t=38s

Caring for the mental health needs of children and young people. This video focuses on a man’s childhood story and how he battled mental illness. He received help from his teacher, his parents, and his counselor.

 

 

 

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