Today’s youth are increasingly focused on maintaining positive mental health, with nearly 9 in 10 young people identifying mental health as a top priority. However, young people experience many barriers to mental health supports, with nearly half of struggling youth not knowing where to access mental health resources and others facing obstacles caused by mental health stigma.
In order to support students with mental health concerns, it’s important to acknowledge their unique experiences and support them with their own personal needs in mind. As students become more aware of their social-emotional mental health and more motivated to find support and treatment for their individual concerns, educators and administrators can help by listening to student perspectives and considering the mental health supports students say they want in schools.
Mental health stigma often causes students to retreat inward rather than express their concerns, so here are some ideas students have shared about the mental health supports they want in their schools to help you get a better idea of what the students in your school or district might need:
Create Informative Mental Health Curriculum
Without a clear understanding of mental health and positive coping mechanisms, students often don’t realize that they have emerging mental health needs and are more likely to depend on unhealthy coping mechanisms to regulate their emotions––leading to more serious mental health needs in the future. Some students believe that the best way to prevent this is by introducing informative mental health curriculum into every school. This curriculum teaches students how to recognize emerging mental health needs and give them the resources to manage these needs. Ultimately, this information would begin to normalize discussions about mental health, leading students to feel more comfortable reaching out when they need help.
Destigmatize Mental Health in Schools
Although nearly half of all students will be affected by mental health challenges before the age of 18, almost 80% of children with an identified need for mental health services do not receive the care they need. While this is sometimes due to lack of resources and mental health services, it is often related to mental health stigma causing students to mask their struggles and not reach out for help. Educators hold an important role in destigmatizing mental health in schools––professional development and mental health training can help teachers create a school community that is a safe space to openly communicate about mental health. Removing the stigma associated with mental health challenges creates a space for students who are silently struggling with their mental well-being to open up about their needs and concerns and is critical to connecting students with mental health resources and support.
Prioritize Mental Health in School Policy
For many students––particularly those in higher grades who are preparing for college––school can be overwhelming with the immense pressure to get good grades, keep up an active social life, and enjoy other passions outside of academics through hobbies and extracurriculars. The feeling of being overwhelmed by these responsibilities is a normal part of adolescence, so the best solution is to alleviate some of the pressure students feel in school by developing school policies that support student mental health. In response to declining student mental health, some states have created framework for schools to implement a ‘mental health day’ policy. These policies enable students to take the time they need when they are experiencing mental health challenges without fear of falling behind in school. Schools may also consider policies to address the anxiety students feel about academic testing and social media. And many states, districts, and schools have put policies in place to ensure students are protected from bullying, both in school and online.
While providing access to treatment and ongoing mental health counseling is an important way to address student mental health needs, it’s important to more broadly support student social-emotional health and well-being. The first step is always to listen to what students are feeling and build a support system that considers their unique needs first. This ensures every student feels heard, creating trust and open communication about mental health in