Schools need additional strategies for addressing students' mental health, educator says
- In an Edutopia article, David Tow, a California teacher and researcher, shares new strategies that teachers can use to help identify mental illness and to help lessen some of the pressures on students that are causing a spike in teen suicide rates.
- Many students are dealing with enormous pressures at school and at home and current approaches, such as teaching positive management strategies, promoting emotional competency, and educating staff members on mental health issues are not enough anymore, Tow says.
- Instead, he suggests a five-pronged strategy for promoting the mental well-being of high school students: Connect with students daily in way they know you care; set office hours where students can have a chance to talk; remember that mental health is even more important than academic performance; consider what is most important as you give out assignments; and connect with counselors and mental health professionals regarding students' mental health and your own.
The recent Parkland school tragedy had drawn a great deal of attention to student mental health issues. However, the issues are more broad than episodes of violence, as tragic as these events are. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “between 13% and 30% of American school-age children experience mental health disorders, including 1 in 7 children between the ages of 2 and 8.” Suicide rates for teens have also been increasing. One particularly disturbing trend is that, while men, overall, die by suicide more than three times as often as women, the rate of suicide in teenage girls doubled from 2007 to 2015.
Teachers are often the first to observe behaviors in students that may be indicators of mental health issues. These indicators may range from signs of depression and lack of interest in school assignments to disruptive behaviors that interfere with the learning environment. At the current rate of mental illness in schools, teachers are likely to have four or five students in every classroom who are dealing with some sort of mental health issue and nearly two-thirds of those students are not receiving the services they need.
Most schools do not have enough counselors or mental health professionals on staff to deal with the needs. Relationship building with teachers or mentors can help students deal with some issues and can identify larger problems, but administrators can also have protocols in place for dealing with these issues when teachers express concern about a student's mental health. Sometimes local health departments or mental health agencies can offer help. And with the current focus on mental health, administrators may find more funding at the local, state, and federal levels in the months to come. Because student mental health affects academic achievement as well as school safety, administrators have multiple reasons to pay attention to these issues.