How can I incorporate mental health education into my time with students?

7 min read
December 7, 2022

Student mental health and well-being greatly affect their social, emotional, and behavioral development, highlighting how mental health and student success and achievement go hand in hand. In fact, 1 in 6 youths in the U.S. from the ages of 6-17 experience a mental health disorder every year, and half of mental health conditions start by age 14, showing the dire need for mental health education in schools. 

For many students, school can trigger feelings of stress and anxiety. Teens may have a packed schedule and may feel the many pressures that come with adolescence. Keep reading for tips on how to incorporate mental health education into your schedule/time with your students.

Work to decrease mental health stigma in your classroom

Mental health stigma is a negative assumption, attitude, or belief about individuals who have a mental illness or experience mental health problems. This type of stigma occurs when someone, including yourself, views a person in a negative way just because they are struggling with their mental health. The stigma surrounding mental health can be harmful because it can prevent people from getting the help that they need.

You can work to decrease mental health stigma in your classroom by encouraging honest and thoughtful conversations about mental health. If you’ve had experience with mental health treatments like therapy, share your journey to encourage others to do the same. If your students realize that someone close to them is experiencing similar mental health challenges, they might feel more comfortable reaching out for help when they need it. 

Educating your students on the facts of mental health is a great way to decrease stigma and improve attitudes toward mental illness. By providing accurate information and a better understanding of mental illnesses and their treatments, you can take away the fear and confusion that people may have. Studies have shown that providing people with accurate information can positively influence their attitudes toward mental health. By teaching your students about mental health, you can help create a more understanding and compassionate community.

Tip: Brain Health Basics is a free 1-hr program that you can easily adopt in your classroom to help students understand their mental health, build the vocabulary to talk about it, and self-advocate.

Check-in with your students

A big part of maintaining good mental health is self-awareness. Give your students questions to ask themselves daily or throughout the week like: 

  1. How am I feeling today?
  2. Am I taking care of myself (food, sleep, exercise, etc.)?
  3. What have I been worried about?
  4. What can I do today that will bring me joy?

Encourage your students to make these questions a regular part of their routine and explain to them the benefits of making self-awareness a habit. Any drastic changes in these answers can be an indication to them that something needs to change, or that they need to reach out for support. This can be a great way for students to be proactive about their mental health and practice self-care. 

You can also incorporate check-ins into your classroom schedule, like having your students do a quick written reflection at the start of each day to help them be aware of their emotional state. This can improve emotional regulation, or the ability someone has to exert control over their emotional state. For example, if a student notices that they are feeling anxious one morning, they can practice some mindfulness exercises to help them calm their nerves and feel more in control of their emotions.

Show your students some grounding techniques

Grounding techniques can be a powerful tool for young people to use to interrupt any anxieties or negative thoughts and ground them in the present moment. One easy and effective way that students can ground themselves is through the 5-4-3-2-1 technique: 

  • Think about FIVE things you can see. This could be a desk, a plant, or anything you see near you. 
  • Think about FOUR things you can touch around you. It could be your arm, your chair, or even the ground under your feet. 
  • Think about THREE things you can hear. This could be any external sound. If you can hear your neighbor talking– it counts! Focus on things you can hear outside of your body.
  • Think about TWO things you can smell. Maybe you are near the lunch room and smell food being prepared or you can smell the perfume of the person next to you. 
  • Think about ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like— coffee, juice, or the gum you chewed 10 minutes ago?

You can also educate your students about mindfulness and its benefits. Practicing mindfulness has been proven to lower stress levels and increase motivation. One easy way to start practicing mindfulness is through mindful breathing. We breathe all the time, but we often do it without thinking. Here is an exercise you can share with your students: 

  • Take a slow breath in through the nose, breathing into your belly (4 seconds) 
  • Hold your breath (1 or 2 seconds)
  • Exhale slowly through the mouth (4 seconds) 
  • Wait a few seconds before taking another breath

There are a number of grounding techniques that exist out there and it’s important to remember that different techniques may work for different people. Remind your students that it may take some trial and error before they find something that works for them and that patience is key. Explore and introduce different techniques like journaling, positive affirmations, and gratitude to your students to help support them in their journey to well-being.

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