From elementary schools to college campuses, today’s students need education leaders who are invested in their emotional safety. Unfortunately, mental health is often ignored or underestimated. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly 20% of high school students report serious thoughts of suicide and 9% have made an attempt to take their lives.
Though those numbers are sobering, the good news is that the mental health issues many students face, like anxiety or depression, can be detected early. Given their proximity to students within the classroom setting (1,274 hours per school year on average), educators are uniquely positioned to provide early detection and prevention of mental health issues. While promoting mental health awareness in schools can seem like a daunting task, it has enormous benefits.
By meeting students where they already are, educators can help students adopt behaviors that promote positive mental well-being and encourage open discussions among students about their mental health struggles. When we invest in children’s mental health we improve the lives of not only children, youth, and their families — but our communities too. In honor of May being Mental Health Month, here are 5 ways you can foster a positive mental health culture at school:
Train teachers and support staff
One of the best ways for school leaders to create a safe school environment for everyone is by ensuring that teachers and support staff are receiving the training, resources, and support they need in key areas of emotional student mental health and well-being. By providing the tools to succeed, like those offered through FACTS Education Solutions, education leaders can ensure that school staff know they are valued and that their leaders want them to grow.
Whether they need a deep dive into social-emotional learning or to brush up on the best practices for virtual learning, it’s essential to provide training and professional development opportunities for teachers that can empower them to create a safe learning environment for students.
Teach stress reduction strategies
Students’ stress is typically related to everyday experiences, concerns, and challenges at school, in the home, and within their peer group. Create classroom activities for students to develop stress reduction skills and learn how to feel and cope better without hurting themselves or others. For students, identifying and acknowledging the sources of stress and expressing their emotions regarding them are typically the most effective techniques for mitigating stress levels.
Encourage parental involvement
To create a positive mental health environment in schools, parental involvement is crucial. Studies have shown that students who have parents more engaged in their school lives are more likely to perform better, feel better, and have increased social skills. To encourage parents to be more involved in their children’s emotional lives, teach them ways of identifying signs of distress, how to seek assistance for their child if they suspect any issues, and ways to support their child’s overall mental health and well-being.
Provide access to essential mental health resources
Does your school have a bullying prevention program? If not, create one. It could save a child’s life. The National Center on Safe Supporting Learning Environments reports that schools that have a school safety plan aimed at protecting students from bullying, exposure to weapons, the sale and use of drugs, harassment and violence have better student outcomes.
Sharing important and relevant mental health resources to students and their families, including any programs offered at your school or the educational materials found on the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, can help promote greater mental health awareness at home.
Create an open-door policy
Students often feel more comfortable talking to teachers about their personal issues. A recent study reported that educators are “significantly more” alert than legal guardians to teens’ mental health. When asked if a child has ever approached them about a mental or emotional concern, more educators (78%) said yes, compared to parents (58%).
However, the study also showed nearly half of parents (49%) take the lead in starting discussions about mental health with their child, while only a quarter of educators (22%) do the same.
To ensure that students feel comfortable discussing their mental health concerns and issues, teachers should aim to create an environment that includes fostering open and honest communication, actively listening to students’ perspectives, and providing support and guidance as needed.
The mental health and well-being of students is a critical issue and it’s important for educators to find creative ways to support them and create a dialogue around mental health. Luckily, there are plenty of things we can do to create safe and healthy learning spaces for our students.