Thanks to the ongoing effort by various brave and diverse voices, there is more acceptance and understanding of the fact that mental health is a real thing with real consequences. As education professionals, we are all striving to do better to facilitate discussions of mental health amongst young people and bring mental health education and resources into schools and spaces of learning. We understand that introducing these topics at a young age can significantly impact students’ current and future mental health and contribute to eliminating stigma and fostering resiliency through awareness.
Not only do schools have the ability to promote positive mental health by building self-confidence and self-esteem, they can also be places where students learn the importance of mental health, how to recognize signs of poor mental health, and how to seek assistance for any mental health challenges. Here are some strategies that we can all use to better teach, manage, and engage with mental health in schools.
A primary goal of mental health education should always be to increase awareness. This involves not only teaching youth what mental health means, but also providing guidance on how to maintain positive mental health and the impact that one’s behavior can have on the mental health of others. It is vital that youth understand the concept of self-care and that mental health is part of an overall approach to health and well-being. Wellness is, after all, described by the World Health Organization as a state of “complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Awareness also helps young people better understand and empathize with those facing mental health challenges, and be better equipped to offer support. It is critical to help youth understand that no individual is defined by their illness and that it is never ok to associate someone with a stereotyped group. By educating our youth about mental illness, educators can play a critical role in normalizing mental illness conversations, thus helping to dissipate stigma.
Recognizing the issues
Another goal of mental health education should be giving children, parents, and teachers the tools they need to identify mental health-related issues in themselves and others. It is well understood that when mental health problems are ignored, they can lead to damaging coping mechanisms and ultimately have an adverse impact on development and overall quality of life. By naming the issues, young people will be empowered to seek the proper support and resources to deal with mental health challenges.
Establishing school-based health centers
By providing school-based health centers (SBHCs), schools immediately increase students’ access to care and provide a tangible signal that overall well-being and mental health are priorities. In addition, data indicates that students are substantially more likely to seek mental health and substance use support when it is available at school. Establishing an SBHC will also help schools create partnerships with mental health professionals in the community and continue expanding the range of resources they offer.
Emphasizing teacher wellness
In their desire to provide the best possible outcome for students, many teachers end up feeling overwhelmed by the emotional and behavioral challenges they encounter in their classrooms. Minor incidents can accumulate and result in burnout. When left unaddressed, this can negatively affect teacher-student relationships and the classroom environment, possibly causing harm to both teacher and student mental health. Schools should offer concrete and accessible resources to support teachers in addressing their mental health challenges.
Incorporating social and emotional learning (SEL) in schools
An essential component of the IB methodology, social-emotional learning is the process through which youth acquire and practice the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to understand and manage emotions, outline positive goals for themselves, demonstrate empathy, cultivate positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. Not only do these serve as the building blocks students need for future success, but social-emotional learning also helps students gain resilience and be better prepared to confront mental health challenges.
By including education on mental health and information on how and where to access help, schools can contribute to a better future for their students, staff, and the surrounding community. At CAS Trips, we want to do our part in helping to bring mental health into the curriculum in a thoughtful and accessible way. Therefore, in the fall of 2021, we will be running our third Virtual CAS Conference series on the topic of Mental Health and Well-being. You can learn more about programming and how to get involved here.
Title photo credit: Tim Mossholder via Unsplash