The school years can present some challenging times as children are growing, learning to socialize, and developing their own personalities and character. This can be a difficult journey in and of itself without the added challenges of a global pandemic and the microscope of social media.
Mental health is a vital topic in today’s world and since 1990, the first full week in October has been designated as Mental Health Awareness Week. Going beyond just dedicating one week to this issue, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is an organization entirely dedicated to advocating for mental health awareness. Apex Leadership Co. shares some information for parents, educators, and students to learn about mental health and become aware of it in their own life.
According to NAMI, one in six U.S. youths between the ages of six and 17 (16.5 percent) experience a mental health disorder each year. The site goes on to report that 50 percent of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14. While these stats are alarming, they’re not surprising. And it’s important that students and adults alike come together to begin breaking down the stigma that surrounds mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.
Educators can play a key role in helping students that may be developing a mental illness. In fact, MentalHealth.gov reports that educators “are often the first to notice mental health problems.” The site suggests that educators might look for the following warning signs that indicate a student could be experiencing mental health problems:
- Feeling very sad or withdrawn for an extended period of time (longer than two weeks)
- Seriously trying to harm oneself or making plans to do so
- Suddenly feeling overwhelming fear for no reason
- Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
- Drastic changes in student’s behavior or personality
- Involvement in many fights or desire to badly hurt others
The site advises educators to make the principal, school nurse or school counselor, psychiatrist, or school social worker aware of the issues as well as alerting the parents. Many schools already have programs in place to support students experiencing changes in their mental health, and school administration should be able to provide resources for students and their guardians in terms of how to access crisis support and other services for mental health.
NAMI notes that it’s important that people with mental illness understand that they are not alone. In fact, their new campaign which launched in September 2021 (and is ongoing throughout all of 2022) is dedicated to the message of “Together for Mental Health.” The site states the organization is focused on the “healing value of connecting in safe ways, prioritizing mental health and acknowledging that it’s okay not to be okay.” The organization aims to achieve their vision of a nation “where anyone affected by mental illness can get the appropriate support and quality of care to live healthy, fulfilling lives — a nation where no one feels alone in their struggle.”
Mental health is present in many aspects of our lives and affects everyone differently, so students or people of any age going through a period of low or difficult mental health should know that they are not the only ones. It’s important that students going through a challenging time are able to turn to someone they trust to talk through their issues and to assess whether they need additional resources to help manage the situation.
Students should be empathetic and compassionate to those that are going through a rough time. On-campus leaders can make an effort to include those that seem newly withdrawn, for example, and they should alert a teacher or administrator if they suspect a student might be in danger of harming themselves or others. Students can also be aware of certain signs their friends may be experiencing mental health issues including :
- Feeling hopeless, numb, or like nothing matters
- Having low or no energy
- Unable to stop thinking about certain things or memories
- Unable to perform daily tasks (like going to school)
- Not wanting to hang out with friends or family
- Not wanting to do the things they normally enjoy
Apex Leadership Co. encourages educators, school staff, parents, guardians, and students to break down the stigmas surrounding mental health, to open the doors of communication on the topic, and to speak up if they are struggling or see someone they care about struggling.