Needs Assessment Part 2: Understanding Common Student Mental Health Conditions

Adolescent mental health is becoming an increasing concern in K-12 schools, with one in six U.S. youth living with a mental health condition. While identifying symptoms of student mental health conditions is fairly straightforward, supporting students’ mental health concerns can be challenging. Supporting student mental health needs is critical to their academic success and emotional development.  It is important for teachers, counselors, and administrators to fully understand these common conditions students may be experiencing in order to best support students.

For educators looking to learn more in order to support student mental health, here are some of the most common conditions students experience, as well as some of the external factors that contribute to these conditions:


  1. Generalized Anxiety (GAD)

Generalized anxiety is characterized by excessive worry about a wide variety of things. Students experiencing GAD may be persistently preoccupied with interpersonal relationships, academic performance, extracurricular activities, social media, or health concerns. Reports suggest that in response to the pandemic, anxiety among students has increased, caused by health concerns, financial instability, and other problems at home.

  1. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Students who have ADHD experience a consistent pattern of difficulty concentrating and/or impulsive behaviors. This can cause struggles with following instructions, remembering tasks, fidgeting, and excessive talking and distracting other students. Students with ADHD can be particularly difficult to support when schools are using an online-only or hybrid learning schedule, as working from home presents many distractions and makes it harder for students to adhere to deadlines.

  1. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

Major depression is marked by a consistently depressed mood most days for at least a two-week period, accompanied by symptoms such as sadness, hopelessness, or fatigue. Supporting students who have depression is critical––particularly during online learning when they are isolated from teachers and peers––as they are at a higher risk for self-harming behaviors, including suicide, which is the second-leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-olds in the U.S.

  1. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a condition that occurs in response to having directly witnessed or experienced a traumatic event. Symptoms may develop directly after a trauma or over time and may not be immediately evident following the trauma. Between COVID-19 deaths of family or friends, domestic violence during quarantine, and protests against police violence and racial inequities, 2020 has been especially traumatic for students.

  1. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Students who have OCD experience persistent intrusive thoughts, obsessions, and/or compulsive behavior and urges. In order to neutralize feelings of anxiety or stress––typically caused by intrusive and obsessive thoughts––students will frequently and repetitively perform rituals and routines. While there is no evidence that COVID-19 will lead to a surge in students who are diagnosed with OCD, students who are currently struggling with OCD and are obsessed with or fearful of germs may have a particularly difficult time readjusting to the classroom with pandemic safety guidelines.

  1. Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

Oppositional Defiant Disorder is characterized by a pattern of anger, irritability, or spiteful behavior that is outside the typical limits of child and adolescent behavior. Students with ODD may be argumentative, hostile to authority, and defy rules––including the law. ODD may affect up to 10% of students and can be seriously detrimental to their academic progression and success, as well as have a long-term impact on their reputation.

  1. Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety causes significant and persistent fear of social situations, often accompanied by feelings of inferiority or embarrassment. Students with social anxiety may be excessively self-conscious, uncomfortable in public, or experience extreme concern about doing something embarrassing. Social-distancing and other COVID-19-related concerns have been a factor in increasing social anxiety among students.

  1. Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation anxiety occurs when students experience persistent and excessive worry about being separated from a parent or caregiver. Students––typically younger children––may complain of minor physical ailments when anticipating separation from parents and resist parents leaving at drop-off. After months of social isolation with their immediate family due to the pandemic, students are more likely to experience feelings of separation anxiety.

While these are only a few of the most common mental health conditions that students experience, understanding these disorders and their symptoms is crucial for educators and families to support students’ mental wellbeing. To learn more about identifying symptoms of students that are experiencing mental health needs, check out part one of this series: Identifying Common Student Mental Health Conditions or contact us to speak with a LearnWell representative about how to support your students’ mental health needs.

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