Written by Lanna Wei
Recognizing Warning Signs
A National Education Union (NEU) survey conducted in 2018 reported that 49% of students were experiencing suicidal thoughts due to the high amounts of stress they were pressured with. As mainly teenagers, many individuals struggle with mental health problems every day, and schools could provide better support by recognizing key signs that their students might be struggling. Some of these people refuse turning to school guidance or psychologists in an attempt to seek help, in concern that their parents would be informed of their struggles. However, not only is it the guidance counselors’ jobs to provide mental health support, it is also in hands of students’ teachers. These members of staff see their students multiple if not every day of the school week, and many are not educated in warning signs that a teenager is having trouble with their mental health. Many teachers also don’t give out extensions or follow 504 plans, which is detrimental to these students’ health and could definitely negatively affect their performance inside and outside of school.
Some warning signs that staff should pay attention to include:
Suddenly acting frustrated/sad and withdrawn for weeks on end
Decreased interaction with peers
Physical deterioration (gaining or losing weight, no personal hygiene, no longer caring about appearance, etc.)
Difficulty concentrating in class
Not turning in assignments on time/low test grades
Severe mood swings
Excessive substance use
Often late or absent to school without an excuse
Small and Beneficial Changes
There are many changes that can be made within school classrooms, where students spend the most time in. Because teachers constantly interact with their students, it is important that these members of staff can understand warning signs and find ways to make a classroom more comfortable for struggling students.
Within a school environment, staff should recognize that all students are different and shouldn’t be penalized for not raising their hand in class, being too scared to present, etc. Instead, teachers should take note of these behaviors that indicate stress (fidgeting, avoidance, asking to leave the room), and find ways to make all students feel comfortable in this environment. For example, teachers can take steps such as breaking apart large projects into smaller ones to prevent further stress and nervousness.
When teachers create a safe-enough environment, students will feel more at ease and respected, and they sometimes will go to them for help. When this occurs, it’s the teacher’s job to pay attention to what they’re saying, validate their emotions, and offer them to seek help/talk to someone. Offering one-to-one discussions is also beneficial because it lets students know that they’re safe to talk to their teacher about certain struggles and events. Teachers can also offer advice and support or consult other staff/organizations if the student is in severe need of help. One class cannot fully change a student’s mental health, but simple gestures such as these that provide reassurance and less anxiety can seriously make a positive impact on these kids.