How to Build Mental Health Awareness in Schools

Tackling mental health awareness in schools can seem like a daunting task, especially when so many administrations in the United States lack mental health education policies. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), behavior problems, anxiety, and depression are all commonly diagnosed in children and adolescents, but only half of youth with mental health problems receive the treatment they need.

But there’s also good news: 70 percent of mental health conditions that appear in children and adolescents can be addressed with early intervention. By identifying the warning signs of mental health conditions and providing mental health support, schools can help at-risk students seek mental health care before their mental health issues become more serious.

While there are technological tools, such as screen monitoring that can help parents identify if their kids are consuming troubling content. These tools can assist in identifying mental health issues early, it’s also important to identify students struggling with mental health issues and teach students strategies to become more resilient. Here’s why it’s so important to maintain a positive mental health culture in schools—and how we can take steps toward motivating mental health awareness.

Why mental health awareness in schools is critical

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 20 percent, or one in five students, is currently facing a mental health issue. Although the average age of mental illness symptom onset is 14, many individuals don’t seek help until adulthood.

Undiagnosed, untreated, or improperly treated mental illnesses can take a significant toll on a student’s ability to learn, grow, and develop. Since children and adolescents spend most of their time in educational settings, schools offer a valuable opportunity for the early detection of mental health symptoms. Youth are almost as likely to receive mental health services in an educational setting as they are to receive treatment from a mental health provider—in 2019, 15 percent of adolescents aged 12–17 received mental health services at school, while 17 percent saw a specialty provider.

By meeting students where they already are, educators can help students understand the importance of taking mental health seriously. They can also help students make positive changes for the sake of their mental well-being. Schools can teach students about mental health treatment, encourage students to talk more openly about their mental health problems, and acknowledge that they’re experiencing mental health symptoms.

Steps toward increasing mental health awareness

Now more than ever, it’s essential for teachers to provide students with resources, opportunities, and support in their mental health journey. Until mental health education is a requirement in all schools, educators and administrators can take certain steps to promote mental health awareness among students.

Here’s how schools can start taking a comprehensive, multilevel approach to mental health awareness:

  • Promote positive self-esteem. Teachers should provide students with the skills necessary to resolve interpersonal conflicts, cope with bullying, and deal with setbacks. It’s important to boost students’ self-confidence by supporting healthy decision-making, assertiveness, and self-determination.
  • Encourage healthy eating and body neutrality. Schools should provide balanced, nutrient-dense meals and educate students on the importance of healthy eating. Healthy eating gives students the energy they need to take care of themselves, succeed in school, and maintain good mental health. It’s also important for schools to teach and remind students that the shape of their body is not as important as their physical and mental health.
  • Provide safe outlets to manage anxiety. Physical activity, meditation, and creative expression all support personal growth. They also help students build resilience, which improves their ability to handle stress, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms.
  • Set an open-door policy. Teachers should make it easy and convenient for students to communicate their mental health concerns and issues. It’s important to create a safe space, to listen to what students have to say, and to be honest.
  • Offer mental health resources. Providing relevant mental health resources to students and their family members, such as the educational materials found on the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, can help promote greater mental health awareness at home.

Ultimately, motivating mental health awareness can help identify at-risk students before early mental health symptoms manifest into more serious mental health conditions. When we empower students with mental health education and encourage dialogue, we encourage them to seek the support they need.

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