Supporting students with mental health issues

Student mental health

Supporting mental health

Supporting students with mental health issues is one of the biggest challenges faced by teachers. 1 in 10 students in the UK has a diagnosable mental health problem; this translates to 3 students in every classroom who teachers are interacting with on a daily basis.

Teachers have reported that rate of mental health problems in students has increased significantly in the past two years, which has been attributed to the rise of social media and academic pressure for school students.

Over the course of their education, students spend over 7800 hours at school, making it a vital space where students be provided with both support for existing mental health issues, and the skills, knowledge and behaviour which will promote resilience against such issues in the future.

1 in 10 students in the UK has a diagnosable mental health problem; this translates to 3 students in every classroom who teachers are interacting with on a daily basis.

School can also be an important refuge of safety and stability for students from turbulent families and homes: having a ‘sense of belonging’ at school is a recognised protective factor for mental health. Research has shown that students at schools with good mental health provision also develop improved social and emotional skills, and reduced classroom misbehaviour, anxiety, depression and bullying.

Although there is a limit to which teachers can resolve students’ mental health issues, there are steps which you can take to identify and support students who are at risk or suffering.

Identifying students with mental health problems

Effectively recognising students with mental health problems means that they can be offered targeted support from the right people as soon as possible.

  • Data collected by your school can be an invaluable resource for spotting changes in behaviour which might be rooted in mental health problems. To this end, keep an eye on attendance and grade data, noting any sudden changes.
  • Be aware that some groups of children are more likely to develop mental health problems than others. These include looked after children, children with learning difficulties and children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • Subtle changes in the day-to-day behaviour of students can signal a change in their mental state. Pay special attention to students who become quiet or withdrawn or become more badly behaved in class.

Make academic provisions

Mental health problems make it harder to students to focus on their studies, and anxiety surrounding academia can worsen students’ mental health, creating a vicious circle. Students with mental health problems are less likely to gain academic qualifications than their peers are (Melzer et al, 2003), and emotional and social capability has been shown to be a more significant indicator of academic achievement than IQ (Gutman, 2012). Teachers can support by students by working to minimise the impact that their mental health has on their academic performance, and vice versa.

Teachers can support by students by working to minimise the impact that their mental health has on their academic performance, and vice versa.

Students with mental health problems will often be unable to meet homework and coursework deadlines due to circumstances outside of their control. Allowing some flexibility on when students hand in homework will help them to stay engaged with their academic studies and reduce any negative impact which academic stress might be having on their mental health.

Make school a positive environment

While there is a limit to the help that schools can give to students with serious mental health problems, ensuring that school is a positive and supportive environment for all students can go a long way.

Clear policies on behaviour and bullying helps to protect all students, especially vulnerable students who are particularly sensitive to abuse from other students. ‘Open door’ policies by teachers also give students space to raise problems that they have, and can help them to feel safer and more supported at school.

Educate and empower students

School can be an important opportunity to equip students with the skills and knowledge to build resilience and cope with mental health issues now and as adults.

PSHCE lessons are a great way to educate students about their mental, as well as physical health. Teachers can cover what different types of mental illnesses are, what symptoms to look for, and the range of resources and services available to turn to for help. The PSHCE association is a great resource for planning lessons and finding material.

School can be an important opportunity to equip students with the skills and knowledge to build resilience and cope with mental health issues now and as adults.

More resources

ChildLine offers free support for children and young people up to the age of nineteen on a wide variety of problems

Young Minds have collated a range of resources for teachers about how to support students and how to implement whole-school policies which help students with mental health problems. They also run mental health awareness and resilience training schools

Counselling in schools: A blueprint for the future – Departmental advice for school leaders and counsellors – Set up to help school leaders set up and improve counselling services in primary and secondary schools. It provides practical, evidence-based advice informed by experts on how to ensure schools-based counselling services achieve the best outcomes for children and young people.

MindEd – Provides free e-learning to help adults to identify and understand children and young people with mental health issues.

References

Melzer et al, (2003) The mental health of young people looked after by local authorities in England, Office for National Statistics

Gutman, L. & Vorhaus, J (2012). The Impact of Pupil Behaviour and Wellbeing on Educational Outcomes. DfE

Adrainopoulos, A. & Brennan, S. (2016), Wise Up: Prioritising wellbeing in schools, National Children’s Bureau

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