Mental and Emotional Health of Students

Student Mental Health in the Classroom:

Bigger than anxiety and depression




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How is mental health defined?


men·tal health


  1. a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.


What is mental illness?


Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities. (American Psychiatric Association)

What role does mental health/mental illness play in education?




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Prevalence in the classroom:

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, it is estimated that one in five people live with some sort of mental disorder or disease. Despite the fact that the average age of early signs of mental illness is 14, most individuals don't seek help until adulthood. Underlining the seriousness is the fact that 60 percent of high school students with mental illness don't graduate.


The Stigma of Mental Illness

“Stigma refers to a cluster of negative attitudes and beliefs that motivate the general public to fear, reject, avoid and discriminate against people with mental illnesses. Stigma is not just a matter of using the wrong word or action. Stigma is about disrespect. It is the use of negative labels to identify a person living with mental illness. Stigma is a barrier. Fear of stigma and the resulting discrimination discourages individuals and their families from getting the help they need.”

SAMHSA, School Materials for a Mental Health-Friendly Classroom, 2004


How to Reduce Stigma in the Classroom

  • Curriculum-Based Learning Programs

  • Explicitly teach about mental health issues and develop students’ mental health literacy

  • Teach stress management and the importance of seeking help

  • Develop a safe and supportive environment
  • Train teachers and students to recognize signs of distress (but remember, there are not always signs)
  • Be kind, supportive, and encouraging to your students
  • Focus on the positives in all your students, not the negatives
  • Remove barriers for students thinking about seeking help (funding and training school counselors to prioritize time helping students beyond curriculum and testing)
  • Related Lesson Plans:

  • This gives eight different lessons for how to incorporate mental health lessons and topics into the classroom. It gives teachers ideas for how to talk about mental health to students in a fun and engaging way.


Podcast Interview with Dr. Sean Brooks, PhD: 


Related Books

Violence Among Students and School Staff: Understanding and Preventing the Causes of School Violence by Sean M. Brooks, PH.D.

    • “This book examines factors that contribute to the long-standing existence of violence within school environments. Some may place the responsibility solely on students- policymakers, educators, and communities play a critical role in the existence, prevention, and extinction of conflict and violence in school. This book provides an exploration of what contributes to school-level violence while examining prevention methods and resources to assist in this critical education.”

    • Chapters include:

  1. The School Environment and School Climate

  2. The Mental and Emotional Health of Students and School Staff

  3. Frustration, Aggression, and Bullying

  4. Social-Media Use and Cyberbullying

  5. School-Related Suicide

  6. The Dynamics of Physical Violence in School

  7. Sexual Harassment in School

  8. School-Related Drug Use and Associated Factors

  9. Rethinking School-Sanctioned Traditions and Activities

  10. Workplace Bullying Within Educational Environments

  11. Conflict Resolution and Violence Prevention in Education


The Mental and Emotional State of School-Aged Students: What Exists and What Educators can do by Sean M. Brooks, PH.D.

  • “When school-aged students are of sound-mind, they can produce exceptional accomplishments where the limits are endless. However, a decline in a student’s mental and emotional state can produce imaginable harm that does have a predictable ending. Chaos, by those who claim to protect children and defend their best interests, will only exacerbate the decline of the educational state and the mental state of school-aged students. Any failure to address the needs of today’s K-12 youth will ultimately make ineffectiveness inescapable at every level of education. The existence of parental divorce, anxiety-related conditions, knowledge of developmental conditions; and the frequency of sexual activity, substance abuse, student burnout, and school-related policies, that are both abundant and absent, must be examined. This book is a preparatory-educational text for prospective teachers and current educators who are simply interested in increasing their efficacy and being more aware of the major variables that influence the mental and emotional state of school-aged students- and what they as educators can do about it.”

  • Chapters Include:
  1. The Impact of Parental Divorce

  2. Managing Emotional Distress

  3. Recognizing Anxiety Related Conditions

  4. Autism and the Spectrum Related Characteristics

  5. The Absence of Sex Education

  6. The Presence of Medication and Substance Abuse

  7. The Existence of Student Burnout

  8. Child Abuse, School Policies, and the Law


Types of Mental Health Disorders

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

    • The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure”. Symptoms include: restlessness, uncontrollable feelings of worry, increased irritability, concentration difficulties, and sleep difficulties, such as problems falling or staying asleep.

    • Related Links


        • This link discusses how students do their best work in a classroom that is calm, supportive, and organized. It discusses ways to reduce anxiety for students such as how to seat them within the classroom, class participation, testing, lunchroom/recess, homework expectations, large group activities, and more.


        • This article discusses how Liz Kleinrock, a 3rd grade teacher at a charter school in L.A., teaches her students meditation and incorporates the daily yoga routine into her classroom to help students find stillness between periods of activity and movement. She details how incorporating this into the classroom it has helped with students anxiety and anger.

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

    • PTSD is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event- either experiencing it or witnessing it Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. There are several different types of symptoms including intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions.

    • Intrusive Memories

      • Symptoms include:

        • Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event.

        • Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks).

        • Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event.

        • Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event.

    • Avoidance

      • Symptoms include:

        • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event.

        • Avoiding places, activities, or people that remind you of the traumatic event.

    • Negative Changes in Thinking and Mood

      • Symptoms include:

        • Negative thoughts about yourself

        • Hopelessness about the future

        • Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of traumatic event.

        • Difficulty maintaining close relationships

        • Feeling detached from family or friends

        • Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed

        • Difficulty experiencing positive emotions

        • Feeling emotionally numb

    • Changes in Physical and Emotional Reactions

      • Symptoms include:

        • Being easily startled or frightened

        • Always being on guard for danger

        • Self-destructive behavior

        • Trouble sleeping or concentrating

        • Irritability, angry outbursts, or aggressive behavior

        • Overwhelming guilt or shame

    • Information from:

    • Related Links


        • This article details how often times a child’s behavior is the result of chronic exposure to traumatic events beyond his or her control and how educators can help students with their trauma. It goes into several strategies that teachers can do to help such as responding in a kind, compassionate way, creating calm and predictable transitions, praise publicly and criticize privately, and adapt your classroom’s mindfulness practice.  


        • This article goes through a variety of different classroom activities to introduce students to ways that trauma can affect them and their peers. It gives lesson plans to help teachers incorporate these ideas into the classroom.

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

    • OCD is a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions). People with OCD may have symptoms of obsessions, compulsions, or both. These symptoms can interfere with all aspects of life, such as work, school, and personal relationships. Obsessions are repeated thoughts, urges, or mental images that cause anxiety. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors that a person with OCD feels the urge to do in response to an obsessive thought.

    • Related Links:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

    • ADHD is a condition with symptoms such as inattentiveness, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Inattention means a person wanders off task, lacks persistence, has difficulty sustaining focus, and is disorganized. Hyperactivity means a person seems to move about constantly, including in situations in which it is not appropriate; or excessively fidgets, taps, or talks. Impulsivity means a person makes hasty actions that occur at the moment with first thinking about them and that may have a high potential for harm, or a desire for immediate rewards or inability to delay gratification. An impulsive person may be socially intrusive and excessively interrupt others or make important decisions without considering the long-term consequences. Students with ADHD have trouble managing time, being organized, and setting goals.

    • Related Links:

  • Eating Disorders

    • Eating disorders are serious and often fatal illnesses that are associated with severe disturbances in people’s eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions. Preoccupation with food, body weight, and shape may also sign an eating disorder. Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.

    • Anorexia Nervosa

      • Symptoms include extreme restricted eating, extreme thinness, intense fear of gaining weight, distorted body image

    • Bulimia Nervosa

      • People with bulimia nervosa have recurrent and frequent episodes of eating unusually large amounts of food and feeling a lack of control over these episodes. It is followed by behavior that compensates for the overeating such as forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of both.

    • Binge-eating disorder

      • People with binge-eating disorder lose control over their eating. Unlike bulimia, periods of binge-eating are not followed by purging or fasting. It is the most common eating disorder in the U.S.

    • Information from:

    • Related Links: This article details how teachers and coaches can take preventative steps in the classroom and on the field to prevent eating disorders. It talks about how to teach about mindfulness and body positivity in schools.

 (Taylor Spencer & Emma Armstrong)


 Ted Talk: The Fight Against Teen Suicide Begins in the Classroom 

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