By Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer & Chief Marketing Officer
Did you know that 1 in 5 kids has symptoms of a mental health disorder? That means that in your classroom of 25 students, 5 of them may be struggling with depression, anxiety or another mental health condition.
Yet most young people with mental illness don’t get the services they need, which can be a huge impediment to learning and sometimes even a danger to the student or others.
How can you help? As we mark May as Mental Health Month, Curriki has suggestions.
A Hidden Crisis
NPR, in a recent series The Mental Health Crisis in Our Schools, called mental illness “a hidden crisis affecting millions of students.”
“Whether treated or not, the children do go to school. And the problems they face can tie into major problems found in schools: chronic absence, low achievement, disruptive behavior and dropping out,” NPR reported. “Experts say schools could play a role in identifying students with problems and helping them succeed. Yet it’s a role many schools are not prepared for.” (Read the entire article.)
You Can Make a Difference
That’s where you come in: the teachers, educators and parents who work with these students. May, designated Mental Health Month, provides a rich opportunity for you to acquire the resources you need to identify and support mentally ill students.
Mental Health America and its affiliates across the country have led the observance of Mental Health Month each May since 1949 to spread the word that mental health is something everyone should care about.
For educators, the challenge is to identify students in your classrooms who have mental health needs, and to help provide services so that they can thrive in school. Students bring more than just a backpack with them to school; they carry a whole array of issues that can impede their ability to focus and learn. Among these barriers are the social, emotional, behavioral and mental health issues.
How Can You Tell If a Student Needs Help?
NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, acknowledges the difficulty in telling the difference between normal teen behavior and signs of a mental illness, and offers a list of common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents. They include:
- Excessive worrying or fear
- Feeling excessively sad or low
- Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
- Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
- Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
- Avoiding friends and social activities
- Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
- Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
- Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
- Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don’t exist in objective reality)
- Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality
There are many more signs, and other resources, on NAMI’s website.
Curriki’s Mental Health Resources
The following resources at Curriki.org will help you better understand and address your students’ mental health needs.
- A Framework for Safe and Successful Schools, part of the National Association of School Psychologists School Safety & Crisis Resources on School Safety/Violence Prevention, outlines a framework for improving school safety and increasing access to mental health supports for students. It includes policy recommendations and best practices for creating safe and successful schools.
- Mental Health First Aider teaches lay people how to assist someone who may be in the early stages of developing a mental health problem or in a mental health crisis.
- Mental Health America offers Mental Health Screening Tools you might find useful, both in English and Spanish.
- The National Association of School Psychologists offers School Safety & Crisis Resources on School Safety/Violence Prevention through Curriki. It outlines a framework for improving school safety and increasing access to mental health supports for students, and includes policy recommendations and best practices for creating safe and successful schools.
- Perspectives, provided by Mental Health Net, is a quarterly online magazine devoted to mental health. It features short articles about all aspects of the topic, including medications, loneliness, managing care, and more.
For your students, Curriki offers How Do You Feel: The Importance of Mental Health. This lesson plan – the last section in a five-part Nutrition, Health and Well-being unit – introduces students to the importance of being aware of their mental and emotional states and how this affects their well-being. Students will choose a mental or emotional health condition, perform an extensive research project, and construct a Prezi presentation that they will present to the class. It’s a great way to nurture awareness and start this important conversation.
Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer & Chief Marketing Officer, leads and manages all of Curriki’s content development, user experience and academic direction. Learn more at Curriki.org.