One of the most important things we can do in schools is to provide a safe and supportive environment for students. And while it’s never too late to start, schools are among the best — and cheapest — places to make a difference in people’s lives.
Despite this, there are numerous problems that schools have yet to successfully address. Mental health and stress management are among them.
Although mental health remains a neglected issue, research shows that it is more prevalent than most people think. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, one in five school-aged youth has a diagnosable mental disorder, including depression, anxiety disorders, substance dependence, and eating disorders.
This statistic has led many schools to take a proactive approach involving students and their well-being at school. Yet the benefits of offering students such programs are not often all-encompassing enough to warrant significant changes in resources and policies frequently proposed by school officials.
1) Provide teachers with more training on Mental Health
Typically, there is a lack of training and preparation for teachers on how to handle mental health issues in schools. This is because it is rarely taught as a course of study and has instead been left to be addressed on an individual basis. This is changing with providers offering more training and opportunities to shift careers.
2) Provide more open discussions on mental health
Although it is not nearly as common, many schools have seen a change from a “shameful” strategy of allowing students to feel ashamed and embarrassed by admitting to having mental health issues to a more open approach. While still rare, the stigma is beginning to be addressed.
3) Improve the environment and support students with different types of disorders
A common issue with those suffering from mental health disorders is the strain caused by their presence in the school. This can include difficulty concentrating, depression, social withdrawal, or even an increase in bullying behavior. This is why it’s important to not only provide support to them but also to their peers and teachers.
4) Improve access to mental health services
Improve access to mental health services that are affordable, culturally competent, and available promptly. One of the biggest issues with students who need help with mental health is that they often do not receive the treatment they need because of the stigma attached or due to financial reasons. Because there are many different types of issues, the schools need to have a wide range of options available. Without this, it is difficult for students to get the help they need.
5) Promote a culture of recovery and well-being
A culture of recovery would show that school is about learning but also about being healthy. It would show that school isn’t just about grades and getting a job after graduation, but that it’s a place to grow, learn new skills, and be healthier. Most schools do not have this enough as they focus on how to teach students how to get higher scores. This can prevent students from seeking other forms of help if they are struggling. Even though there are many different options for students to take advantage of, most schools cannot afford to cover all the different types of treatments available for mental health supported by research studies such as medication and therapy.
6) Create peer support groups
Peer-to-peer support groups have been shown to have a positive impact on students, in addition to addressing issues of stigma and discrimination in school. Peer-led groups are easy, affordable, and effective programs that can help individuals with behavioral or mental health issues get the help they need.
7) Create new policies for mental health support
Although there are many different options for students who want to get better, it is not always possible due to restrictions regarding treatment and the ways schools can pay for them. Other schools may require them to see a therapist from their district or travel 20 miles out of their district just to see someone who they may have never even met before.
8) Ensure that mental health is dealt with as a serious issue
Having a policy in place can make a difference for students who suffer from mental health disorders. This would include being able to get reduced absence, being excused for therapy appointments, and an overall increase in understanding of the needs of those suffering from mental health issues.
9) Work to remove barriers to treatment
One of the biggest barriers that affect students’ ability to receive treatment is financial. Even though there are different types of coverage, many schools have trouble actually providing it due to a lack of resources. This is why school districts need to work hard on creating policies that would provide support not only for education but also for students receiving treatment.
10) Increase counselors and other staff
Increasing counselors and other school staff that can help students with mental health issues prevent conditions from escalating is an important step for schools to take.
11) Improve the safety of the school climate
The School Climate Practices Inventory shows us the 6 elements of safe school climates. These include students’ sense of belonging, teaching and learning environment, safety and support, opportunities for student involvement and leadership, parent/community involvement in their child’s education, and overall quality of the school. Schools need to work hard on creating policies to address these issues so that they can make sure they are creating a safe place for students.
12) Teach self-care techniques
Teaching self-care techniques is essential in making sure that students have a positive school experience. They can address issues of stress, anxiety, and depression and show that the school cares about the overall well-being of its students. For example, these activities support good mental health:
Meditation is a proven method for stress management that allows individuals to gain a sense of calmness and peace. It has been proven effective for helping with depression and anxiety, as well as stress and emotional instability.
Exercise is a great way to improve mental health because it allows people to get out of their heads and relax. Additionally, it increases self-esteem, reduces anxiety, provides a positive feeling, and supports healthy sleeping habits.
- Journaling/creative writing
Journaling can be helpful for students who are struggling with different types of issues such as stress, anxiety, or depression. It allows them to release their thoughts and understand what they are truly thinking without any judgment or fear of judgment from others.
- Teach the importance of a good sleep routine
Although sleep hygiene is not something that is often taught in schools, it can be incredibly helpful for students to learn how to take care of themselves. This includes reading before sleeping, not watching the clock before bed, and making sure your bed is a comfortable place.
- Participate in social activities
Students need to recognize that they don’t need to isolate themselves from others just because they are struggling. Having friends who can help you get through things can make a world of difference. Working together with them to organize fun events will give them a positive outlet and also create opportunities for relationships outside of school.
- Making lists
Making lists can help students focus on the things that they love, whether that’s animals, food, sports, or hobbies. It gives them something positive to look forward to at the end of a long day at school.
13) Teach the importance of healthy relationships with adults
Many of these types of issues can be extremely difficult for students to deal with. Because adults are often there to help them or offer support when needed, students need to understand how friendships and relationships are formed. It is also important for them to know how their behaviors affect others and what they should do if they want others to trust and like them as individuals.
14) Offer more in-school health clinics
The lack of mental health services for youth has resulted in many individuals with mental illness falling through the cracks and not receiving needed treatment. It has also contributed to individuals with mental illness dropping out of school at higher rates than those without mental health disorders. As a result, there is an increased need for schools to offer mental health services as part of routine or “wellness” check-ups.
The high school years are a crucial time for students to develop social skills and learn how to be responsible young adults to be successful later in life. It can be stressful for many students who deal with issues such as anxiety and depression that impair the learning process. In addition, the lack of available mental health services in schools can make it difficult for students to deal with mental health issues on their own. Mental health services should include a safe environment where students feel comfortable talking about their issues and resources that allow them to receive treatment within schools. By following the steps listed above, schools can create an environment that promotes mental wellness and makes it easy for students to receive the treatment they need.