Student Mental Health

Teachers can help

Cheryl Hofweber

Reprinted from "Schools" issue of Visions Journal, 2009, 5 (2), pp. 21-22

When educators look at ways to improve achievement and create safer schools, they need to consider factors that affect students’ mental well-being. The link between mental health, behaviour and student learning is well accepted. Mental illness can seriously affect a child’s ability to reach his or her potential.

In British Columbia, one in seven children and youth experience serious mental health problems. These problems cause much distress and impact the way these students act at home, at school, with their peers and in the community.1

Because teachers see students regularly for 10 months of each year, they are in a key position to help protect the mental health of these children. Teachers can be the first to notice signs and symptoms of mental illness in their students. They can also help prevent mental illnesses from developing in the first place, through preventive measures in the classroom.

Intervening early in a child’s development may prevent a downward spiral that can have devastating effects if a child doesn’t receive the help they need. Preventive measures taken at the elementary school level are likely to be most effective in changing early patterns. This can reduce problems before they become more serious at the secondary school level.

Classroom teachers need to have a basic understanding of the development of mental illness, with strategies to address some of the underlying issues in the classroom. Teachers are in a position to help children become more resilient, so they can better deal with stresses they may experience on a daily basis.

What are some preventive and intervention measures teachers can employ?

When we talk about child and youth mental health, we consider a student’s ability to handle day-to-day demands, unexpected problems, relationships and social networks. We also look at their ability to effectively communicate and understand their own thoughts and feelings. In the classroom setting, developing a culture of acceptance and belonging is an important preventive measure.

What opportunities do teachers have to prepare themselves for this facet of their work?

Resources focusing on mental health and social-emotional learning are available on the Ministry of Education website (www.bced.gov.bc.ca). The Social Responsibility Performance Standards2 provides a ready reference for guiding students in developing positive social skills. Safe, Caring, and Orderly Schools: A Guide3 provides a framework for creating a school environment where students feel safe and experience a sense of belonging. The Health and Career Education Integrated Resource Packages (IRPs)4 include learning outcomes in the area of mental well-being. And the two-volume series, Teaching Students with Mental Health Disorders: Resources for Teachers, focuses on eating disorders and depression.5-6

The Child and Youth Mental Health division of the provincial Ministry of Children and Family Development has two initiatives that support mental health issues. These initiatives are available to all school districts in BC. The FRIENDS For Life program is focused on giving students the tools to deal with anxiety. The FRIENDS For Youth curriculum was introduced to Grade 7 students in the fall of 2008.*

Roots of Empathy (www.rootsofempathy.org) is a programs that fosters emotional literacy and empathy in students, kindergarten through grade eight. In 2007/2008, the program reached 16,700 students in 668 classrooms in BC.

There are many resources for teachers that focus on child and youth mental health (see sidebar for more). Using these resources will increase teachers’ confidence when facing the challenges mental health issues present in the classroom.

 
About the author
Cheryl is a former Director of Student Services in School District #54 (Bulkley Valley), and former president of the BC Council for Administrators of Special Education. She currently works in her district as an elementary school counsellor and teaches in the Special Education Assistant Program at Northwest Community College
Footnotes:
  1. BC Ministry for Children and Family Development. (2008). Child and Youth Mental Health Plan for BC: Progress Report. www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/mental_health/pdf/CYMH_web_final.pdf.

  2. BC Ministry of Education.(n.d.). Social Responsibility Performance Standards. www.bced.gov.bc.ca/perf_stands.

  3. BC Ministry of Education. (2008). Safe, Caring, and Orderly Schools: A Guide. www.bced.gov.bc.ca/sco/guide/scoguide.pdf.

  4. BC Ministry of Education. (2005). Integrated Resource Packages (IRPs) Health and Career Education. www.bced.gov.bc.ca/irp/irp_hce.htm.

  5. BC Ministry of Education, Special Programs Branch. (2000). Teaching Students with Mental Health Disorders: Resources for Teachers. Volume 1–Eating Disorders. www.bced.gov.bc.ca/specialed/edi/welcome.htm.

  6. BC Ministry of Education, Special Programs Branch. (2001). Teaching Students with Mental Health Disorders: Resources for Teachers. Volume 2–Depression. www.bced.gov.bc.ca/specialed/docs/depression_resource.pdf.

 

Close