Schools may have a combination of counselors, social workers, psychologists, and nurses who work together as a mental health team. However, some schools may only have one counselor for their whole student population, and some may not have one at all. In fact, nearly 40% of all school districts nationwide did not have a school psychologist in the first full year of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, how can you support your students if your school is lacking a school counselor or school psychologist?
A safe space is an environment where students feel free to make mistakes without fear of judgment or ridicule. It provides an opportunity for students to have an open dialogue about sensitive topics like mental health and emotional well-being. Update your current syllabus or create a classroom contract to include a statement that intentionally addresses what emotional safety looks like in the classroom. This is also a great opportunity to have an honest discussion and for you to model with your students how to respect each other and look out for each other’s mental health and well-being. Building a sense of community through moderated conversation is a wonderful way to make sure that your students feel comfortable with you and their peers.
Build a relationship with each of your students; when students feel like teachers and other school staff know them on a personal level, they are more likely to reach out when they are struggling with their mental health. You can also incorporate regular check-ins with your students to see how they are really doing. This is a great way to connect with your students and allows them to practice self-reflection
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.
Recognition is one of the first steps in getting a student the help they need. When experiencing a shortage of support staff, teachers can look to changes in student behavior as warning signs of mental distress or issues. When teachers are informed, they will know when to take action and when students might need more guidance and support. Here are some common signs that your student may be struggling:
You may notice that a student is not hanging out with their peers as much as they used to, or that they never liked engaging in social activities in the first place. Keep an eye on these students, as isolation may be a sign.
Students may experience difficulties concentrating in class. If you notice that a student has a particularly hard time paying attention or sitting still in class, this may be a sign that they are struggling.
Notice extreme mood changes and increased irritability. Rather than seeing disruptive behaviors as a nuisance, reframe these behaviors as a potential indication of something deeper.
If you see that your student is missing more days of school or that they are getting significantly lower scores on their tests and assignments, it may be a good idea to check in and see what is going on.
Coping strategies can make a big difference for students who are struggling with their mental health. Teaching positive coping skills can help reduce stress, anxiety, and even suicidal ideation. Here is a list of coping strategies you can share with your class and even put up as posters:
Sometimes, students who are experiencing mental health issues need more support than what teachers can give. If you feel as though your student’s distress is becoming uncontrollable or unmanageable, refer your student to a mental health professional. When students are connected to a professional, they are more likely to get the help and accommodations they need in order to thrive in the classroom and beyond.