Mental Health in Schools

Oct 17, 2017 by

How can a school leader help their students’ mental health? Here are some suggestions.

It is commonly agreed that mental health issues are one of the greatest challenges that are facing the American education system.  It is now generally agreed that at least 10% of children display some sort of mental health problem. These can range from social anxiety to depression. These problems can have profound consequences for the development of the students. Mental health problems mean that a student is not able to achieve their educational or social potential. These students can be very disruptive.  It is now widely agreed that the school is an environment where students with mental health issues can be identified and supported. Schools can make a difference and school leaders should create an environment where children with mental health issues can be supported and thrive.

School Culture

Schools are not in the business of treating mental health and a school leader can only help to support those students with psychological or emotional problems. It is generally accepted that there needs to be a growing awareness of the issue of mental health. Too often in the past behavior that was a symptom of some psychological problem or disorder, was often put down to poor discipline. A school leader needs to create a culture in the school where the staff are aware of the issues and monitor the students. They should be encouraged to identify those with mental health issues such as depression. Students should also be encouraged to talk about their issues. If students can express their feelings this can be a big help. A school leader can make sure that mental health issues are not taboo and are freely discussed. They can hold meetings with their staff and provide the necessary training for them on the issue.

In the classroom, the students can be encouraged to discuss in general terms the problems of mental health and its challenges. Teachers should teach for understanding, meaning that students with mental health issues should not be stigmatized.  Information needs to be readily available to the students with regard to the supports that are available. Pamphlets, posters, plastered all over the building so as students know that support is available. Yet at the same time, any supports that are provided need to be addressed in a confidential and private manner to encourage students with mental health issues to use them. The majority of students who suffer from some psychological difficulties do so, not as a result of their internal pathology but because of environmental factors. School leaders should ensure that their school is an environment that does not create pressures that can lead to mental health problems.

A school leader can help to create an environment where ‘triggers’ of mental health problems are minimized. These ‘triggers’ or ‘stressors’ need to be understood by leaders in education and strategies that can eliminate them. For example, they need to be aware of the impact of bullying on students and introduce a rigorous anti-bullying program. They need to ensure that students are not placed under unnecessary stress and pressures.  Another issue that can lead to psychological problems is that of marginalization. Many students are not members of the learning community and this can lead to problems such as social isolation and depression.  Physical exercise should be encouraged as this can help to lower the risk of depression and contribute to the overall mental wellbeing of students. Creating an environment that is supportive of the students wellbeing should be prioritized by the school principal or the school district.

School Supports

There are now many schools supports available for students and their families. There are now counselors in many schools. They can be very effective. It is very important that school leaders provide these with all the support that they need. It should be stressed that the counselor is available to all and that they should not be a remote figure. A school leader needs to regularly consultation with the counselor on the school’s mental health strategy. A school principal and a school district superintendent need to ensure that all the student support personnel in a school or district are coordinated and have a common strategy. Mental health is a complex issue and the supports need to be intensive. A school leader needs to ensure that sufficient resources are deployed by the support services to ensure that they can provide the supports needed by students who are displaying worrying behavior. The school will not have all the supports that are a need and the school leader will need to ensure that any trouble students are able to access the right services.   Many students with mental health issue may engage in self-harm or even threaten suicide. The school leader needs to provide the resource to maintain emergency assistance for those who are suffering acute psychological problems. It is important that the school leader ensures that his school support personnel are coordinated with these district supports.  It is important that a school principal or a school district superintendent established formal connections with mental health service providers.  The school leader needs to establish co-location of the agency at schools and to develop partnerships between a school or district and community agencies. The school leader also needs to invite providers to provide instruction to both teachers and students.

Keywords: student mental health, mental health in schools, school counseling

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