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Is there a mental epidemic in schools? What are teachers' roles in promoting mental wellness?

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A combination of many factors like childhood trauma or abuse, experience of neglect, social isolation or heightened feeling of loneliness, stigma, social disadvantages and poverty. So many things can cause a rise in mental health struggles in children, teens and young adults in schools. 


A mental health crisis


Reports starting the 2020s have shown that poor mental health is rising in the United states among young people. In fact, in 2021, 41% of students reported feeling sad and hopeless, while 29% said their mental health was poor. In the same year, surveys show that 21% of students consider taking their own life  while 10% of them have tried doing so. The following years paint a similar bleak picture.  


Addressing students’ mental struggles is crucial both in the family setting and in school. Aside from family relationships, school-related factors may provide either relief or further exacerbation of mental struggles. Those who do not develop healthy coping skills often struggle with academic performance, become more at risk for substance abuse and violence, and show poorer health outcomes.


How can school staff, particularly teachers, create an environment that helps students live to be healthy adults enjoying mental wellbeing? 


Approaches by teachers to promote thriving mental wellbeing in schools


1. Prevention is better than cure
There are strategies to help students feel connected with their teachers and schoolmates in order to prevent negative experiences in school. 
  • How can schools develop healthy bonds among adults and peers at school? Children need to feel that they are cared for. 
  • How can schools promote physical activities, social services and health services? These may be indirectly related to mental health, but they are ways to lessen student stress and lead to more behaviors that promote overall health. 
  • Some campuses are becoming more creative. They are integrating various approaches.  Teachers are the first level of support who can link students to these services.  
  • Group therapy 
  • Peer counseling
  • Telehealth

2. Growing in a safe and supportive environment. During the Covid-19 pandemic when schools were operating virtually, there has been a revival of mental health services. This was in part due to an increase in students’ mental struggles. Now that schools are back in person, schools can still offer both in-person or virtual activities to support mental health. 

  • How can teachers link students to mental health services?
  • How can learning social skills and emotional skills be integrated into the lessons? 
  • What training can teachers undergo to prepare them to deal with a variety of mental issues? 
  • How can teachers support their own mental health? Teachers have the power to set the tone in class, and when teachers’ own mental wellbeing is high, they are able to model and teach students better. 

3. Equipping teachers with knowledge and skills. Teachers would be knowledgeable about the warning signs of mental health problems and they should know whom to turn to when they have concerns about their students’ wellbeing. 
  • Include lessons about building life skills such as emotional competence and resilience, decision-making and health. 
  • Learn about evidence-based techniques to support mental health in class. One example is the importance of teaching students who have undergone trauma. 

Students’ mental wellbeing is not just one sector’s responsibility, it is a community project. And a huge part of the outcome will be from the schools’ and teachers’ dedication and skills. As American historian Henry Brooks Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”


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Is there a mental epidemic in schools? What are teachers' roles in promoting mental wellness?
Brandon Resasco

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