May is Mental Health Awareness Month which was started in 1949 to increase the understanding of the importance of mental health and wellness. It’s an important time to recognize the significance of mental health in our daily lives, particularly in students.
Since 2020, we’ve been hit with a series of idiosyncratic life events that have taken a toll on our children’s health. Besides the sickness and death brought by COVID-19, we’ve struggled with economic uncertainty, disruption in school and work, and social isolation.
The impact of the pandemic, however, only further heightened an already-existing mental health crisis. Stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness were already epidemic years before the emergence of the COVID-19. We are not only seeing a higher incidence of mental health issues in our students, but we’re seeing them start at a younger age.
Mental health refers to our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how students think, feel, and act, and it influences how they handle stress, make choices, and relate to others.
Mental health is a crucial component of overall health, yet it often goes unnoticed or ignored. As this month provides an opportunity to raise awareness, students suffering from mental health doesn’t stop when May ends.
Poor mental health can have huge negative effects on many aspects of students’ lives, including relationships, academic performance, physical health, and overall quality of life; therefore, schools should incorporate how they identify and manage student mental health within their overall safety plan.
Schools can incorporate the following:
- Provide awareness: Schools can offer education to help students and staff to understand mental health. The education can help students and staff to learn how to recognize warning signs in themselves and their peers and how to seek help when necessary. Schools can also provide peer support programs. Students can connect with other students who have experienced similar mental health challenges. This can provide a sense of community and support for students who may feel isolated or alone.
- Create a Mental Health Team: Create a team of mental health professionals who can respond, manage and provide resources for students in need.
- Create a Crisis Response Plan: Create a crisis response plan that includes steps for responding to emergencies such as suicide threats or other mental health crises. Included should be the responsible parties involved in each step.
- Promote a Positive School Climate Culture: Create a positive school climate by promoting social-emotional learning, building positive relationships between students and staff, and fostering a culture of inclusivity and support. Some examples of this would be to start a student group whose sole purpose is welcome and support new students. Another group could be formed to make sure no one sits alone at lunch. For students who don’t have many friends, lunch time can be one of the most stressful and lonely times of the day for a student.
- Leveraging Technology: Implement technology that can streamline how schools identify and manage students with mental health issues. Technology can also be used to implement positive behavioral intervention and supports (PBIS) within your school using point systems and other rewards.
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