Five Ways We Can Support Student Mental Health in the Classroom

October 10, 2022By: Pedro Olvera, PhD

World Mental Health Day (2022) is an excellent reminder to teachers and school-based professionals of the importance of the overall well-being of our students and the relationship of student mental health to overall academic success.

When students can cope well with life and personal mental health challenges, they achieve better grades, get along better with peers, and have lower absenteeism rates. However, when students do not have the tools and resources to learn these coping skills, as the recent pandemic has shown us, overall academic performance tends to suffer as well.

To highlight this point, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation’s Report Card, saw a significant decline in reading and math scores before and during the pandemic. Other factors other than mental health alone may have contributed to this decline. Lack of reliable technology, financial challenges, school closures, excessive absences, etc., contributed to the decline. However, it is important to note that the pandemic period’s impact, referred to as a “Wrecking Ball” on K-12 students in a recent report, is still being uncovered.  

The following facts from a recent CRPE report can illustrate the toll of the pandemic on students: 51% increased suicide attempts among girls ages 12 to 17, one in 360 students lost a caregiver to COVID-19, anxiety, and depression rose among children, and teenagers and children with special needs lost access to needed services. Another report from ADDitude indicated that adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are reporting abnormally higher levels of anxiety (72%) and depression (44%). The student mental health to school performance link cannot be understated.  

Educators have the power to influence students in many ways. Educators inspire, encourage, and challenge children to do their best daily. Teachers spend up to eight hours a day working with students. Because of this, they have a unique opportunity to develop relationships with their students and support them when they encounter mental health problems or difficult times. Here are five ways that teachers and educators, in general, can support children under their care in schools:  

  1. Listen to your students and provide them with encouragement and support. If possible, try to demonstrate understanding and empathy about their current situation. You can also make yourself available for those children that may not be ready to speak to you. Reassuring them that you are there for them can go a long way.  
  2. Check-In periodically to see how they are doing. Checking in can include a conversation or even structuring an assignment that can give you a gauge of their social-emotional state. For example, incorporating journaling exercises, music activities, time to connect with their peers, or other creative ways to express their feelings are helpful strategies that are beneficial and therapeutic as well.  
  3. Implement activities like mindfulness, breathing exercises, and physical activity into your curriculum. These activities can help students decrease the mental health symptoms that may interfere with their ability to focus and pay attention in class.  
  4. Monitoring your students’ social-emotional and behavioral state is essential. Students respond to crises or mental problems in different ways. Thus, keeping your eyes on children with extreme or concerning reactions may warrant support from a school-based mental health specialist like a school psychologist or counselor. Therefore, you may want to refer these children to a more specialized professional.  
  5. Self-Care is crucial to your effectiveness as an educator. It’s essential to refresh and disconnect from the stresses of the job mentally to ensure you are at your best. In addition, don’t be afraid to reach out to your fellow school-based mental health specialist for help if you feel that your students need more support.  

As discussed above, the pandemic has affected students in many ways and students and educators will continue to face challenges in the coming years. However, educators can have lifelong positive impacts on their students and can take small steps to make a difference in their daily lives. You can use the tips in this World Mental Health Day blog to help guide you toward supporting your students in their mental health and well-being.  

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