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How to improve student mental health in schools

How to improve student mental health in schools

In today's fast-paced society, young people are under more pressure than ever before. From homework stress to peer and social pressure to home life struggles, we should all be interested in how to help mental health in schools, from elementary to high school and all the way to college. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) 2021 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, an estimated 42% of students in the United States feel hopeless or sad all the time. Almost one-third (29%) report experiencing poor mental health on some level. Even more alarming, 20% of our youth (students aged 13 - 15 years) have experienced — or will experience at some point — a severe mental health condition or episode.

While it’s clear that students need guidance and support, how can schools help with mental health? Read on to learn more, including actionable ideas on how to improve mental health in schools.

1. Implement comprehensive mental health education

One of the most effective ways to improve mental health in schools is by incorporating comprehensive mental health education into the curriculum. This offers students necessary resources that emphasize psychological wellness. Having open discussions and educating people on mental health will also reduce the stigma related to seeking help.

This approach to supporting student mental health provides young people with a means to understand and navigate their mental health. For effective implementation, schools can:

  • Incorporate activities that promote mindfulness and stress management techniques
  • Have open discussions about emotions and feelings 
  • Use regular classroom time and host school-wide assemblies to encourage discussion

2. Offer access to counseling services

Schools should ensure that students have easy access to qualified mental health professionals. Talkspace is an online therapy platform that can be a perfect fit for children and adolescents who need expert school mental health services. 

The convenience and privacy offered by Talkspace can encourage students who need help but might be hesitant to seek it out of fear or embarrassment. Talkspace allows students to connect with licensed therapists from the comfort of their own homes or even between classes.

By embracing innovative mental health solutions, like online platforms, schools not only address current concerns but also focus on preventative measures. Make sure students take advantage of the services offered by:

  • Making the process for seeking help clear and straightforward by promoting how to get help
  • Having open-door policies, with passes available that allow students to miss class, penalty-free, if they need help
  • Offering referrals to outside experts if students need additional help
  • Reinforcing that counseling services are confidential 

3. Foster a safe & supportive school environment

Students spend a significant amount of time at their school. An unsafe school environment is one of the most common reasons for chronic absenteeism and poor mental health in students, so creating a nurturing and safe school community for them is critical for dealing with student absenteeism and improving mental health in schools. Safety must be felt on both a physical and emotional level for it to be beneficial. Schools should form environments where students feel relaxed voicing thoughts, worries, concerns, or fears. Promoting kindness and empathy contributes to students' emotional growth.

Students should be able to trust they’re in a safe place that will not tolerate harassment. To create supportive, positive school environments, schools should:

  • Establish and promote clear, anti-bullying policies 
  • Reinforce the idea you have zero tolerance for bullying
  • Use resources like StopBullying.gov as part of a comprehensive anti-bullying program 
  • Curb negative behaviors while encouraging empathy and kindness among peers  

4. Promote physical activity 

Physical activity plays an essential role in positive student mental health. This goes beyond just strengthening the body or winning competitions. Exercise increases endorphins, raises spirits, and reduces tension — the research shows physical activity reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Tips: To promote physical activity, schools can:

  • Urge students to be active throughout their day
  • Start new sports clubs
  • Organize regular walk-and-talk sessions
  • Offer plenty of opportunities for spontaneous play breaks
  • Consider calming activities like yoga  

5. Train educators on mental health awareness

When supporting student mental health, instituting policy is great, but it can only go so far if teachers aren’t trained on awareness and intervention strategies. 

Educators are the lifeline to promoting psychological well-being in students. Even though teachers might not have formal training in recognizing every mental health concern, they play a pivotal role in fostering positive mental health and thus need appropriate training.

Tips: Schools can train educators on mental health awareness by:

  • Offering professional development workshops that focus on mental health literacy
  • Empowering teachers with knowledge about common conditions and warning signs
  • Training teachers on effective intervention strategies
  • Providing education on Social Emotional Learning (SEL) skills 
  • Improving communication between teachers and school psychologists or counselors to help identify at-risk students

6. Create safe spaces for students

Creating a safe space in schools is imperative for student mental health support. Students must come to an atmosphere daily where they can express their needs without worrying about criticism or ridicule. A supportive environment may promote open conversations about students' mental health, fostering greater understanding.

Tips: To create safe spaces for students, schools can:

  • Adapt practices like peer support groups or frequent mental health days for students
  • Establish quiet zones where kids can voluntarily go to unwind from daily stress 
  • Incorporate restorative justice methods instead of using punitive discipline practices
  • Foster a climate of respect for all pupils, regardless of circumstances or background

"Ensure a school environment that is inclusive and welcoming to students of all backgrounds, including race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and ability. Implement anti-discrimination policies and offer resources like diversity training for staff and students to promote a culture of respect and acceptance.” - Talkspace Therapist, Famous Erwin, LMHC

7. Support the mental health of staff

Don’t discount the importance of the well-being of faculty, administrators, and staff, who play a key part in creating supportive student environments. Equip the entire school team with resources to navigate stress, fatigue, and personal challenges that may interfere with their ability to perform their role effectively. 

Tips: Schools can support the mental health of staff by:

  • Offering access to online therapy services like Talkspace, which allows school staff to speak with licensed therapists at their convenience
  • Providing workshops and self-care techniques
  • Promoting mindfulness exercises
  • Offering tips for maintaining work-life balance and preventing staff and teacher burnout
  • Allowing staff to take mental health days 

8. Check in with at-risk students

Regular check-ins can help schools catch early signs of children’s mental health struggles. For at-risk youth, this routine is even more critical. Schools should create systems for teachers and counselors to regularly touch base with each other about warning signs they might be seeing.  

Tips: Schools can make check-ins with at-risk students more effective by:

  • Having regular meetings between faculty and school counselors to discuss at-risk youth
  • Educating faculty and staff about the warning signs of depression, anxiety, social alienation, and other common mental health concerns they should be aware of
  • Implement a "if you see something, say something" policy and actively promote it among students
  • Reinforcing the concept that warning signs should never be taken lightly 

“To ensure the wellbeing of students with a history of mental health issues or a family background marked by traumatic experiences, schools should proactively engage with students even before the first day of school, aiming to establish a strong relationship. Once rapport has been achieved between the student, faculty, and staff, it's important to maintain regular one-on-one check-ins to ensure the stability of the student’s emotional well-being.”- Talkspace Therapist, Famous Erwin, LMHC

Invest in student mental health with Talkspace

If you’ve ever wondered what schools can do to help the mental health of their student body, it might be time to consider Talkspace. 

Talkspace is a powerful tool for anyone trying to determine how schools can help with mental health. Our safe, convenient, and secure platform provides access to online therapy for students and school staff. Using Talkspace’s mental health resources, schools can ensure every student and faculty or staff member gets the support they need. Supporting student mental health is crucial in today's world. Let Talkspace support you in this endeavor.

Sources:

  1. Youth risk behavior survey - Data Summary & Trends Report, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/YRBS_Data-Summary-Trends_Report2023_508.pdf.  
  2. “About Mental Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 25, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm.  
  3. Smith, Patrick J., and Rhonda M. Merwin. “The Role of Exercise in Management of Mental Health Disorders: An Integrative Review.” Annual Review of Medicine 72, no. 1 (2021): 45–62. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-med-060619-022943. Accessed October 11, 2023.

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