By: Taruna Anil
At this point, it’s a given. The pandemic has had a massive effect on the mental wellbeing of students, teachers, parents… pretty much everybody. Now that we’re reaching the one year anniversary of quarantine, this can’t go unaddressed any longer: are schools doing enough for our mental health?
School administrations being inconsiderate of mental health issues is nothing new. Some examples include not fostering a safe environment for students to share their experiences, invalidating student mental illnesses by saying, “That’s life!”, or teaching an insensitive mental health curriculum. But with one in five youth dealing with mental health conditions, school administrators need to change the way they teach and think about mental wellbeing (NAMI).
So, how should schools present these topics to students?
It’s actually not that complicated.
Mental health issues have become increasingly common with COVID-19 restrictions coming into effect. With remote learning, it became more evident than ever that schools should be doing so much more for student mental health.
Sure, maybe your school district puts out a “wellness survey” every once in a while. Yes, maybe they hold mental health seminars every few months. And if you’re lucky, they provide simple access to school-based therapists and psychologists.
But mental health consideration is not surface level. Encouraging students to attend seminars, write short responses on how remote learning affects them, and putting out broad statements every now and then is not enough. The awareness needs to weave itself into the mindsets of school administrators, the classrooms of teachers, and the community as a whole.
Even in remote learning, it is completely possible to create a safe classroom environment, connect with students on a more personal level, provide resources that are adequate, and most importantly, practice what you preach.
In order to achieve this, educators should know the warning signs, how to contact crisis support, and who to turn to for support, if needed (mentalhealth.gov). Rather than referring to law enforcement, teachers should suggest social workers, school-based therapists, psychologists, or other relevant staff. To ensure a positive environment, teachers should promote social and emotional competency all across the board, which requires leniency in workload, deadlines, etc. In addition, it is important that schools support students by educating parents, students, and other school administrators on mental health issues.
Another solution to help with mental health in schools is to offer mental health screenings in schools, rather than notifying a parent to consult with a doctor. Ideally, this would be implemented during in-person learning; however, this practice becoming common would greatly help students, as they would feel safer asking for help and wouldn’t face restrictions (having parents that don’t believe in mental health issues, not being able to afford a psychological evaluation, etc).
Finally, encouragement in the classroom, especially during remote learning, is extremely vital to improving the wellbeing of students. Encouraging a growth mindset, creating a safe space and fostering a classroom community can help curb the feeling of extreme isolation and loneliness students feel during this time. Moreover, integrating mental health conversations into classroom discussions can make students more comfortable with the topic and help them feel more supported.
While distance learning is tough on everyone, including educators, mental health is more important than ever, and should be addressed in appropriate ways. Issuing a survey every few months and calling it a day might seem like a fix, but students don’t feel anymore supported by these actions. Schools should be implementing these measures to help with mental health, instead of turning a blind eye to their students.
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"Teaching Mental Health In The Classroom: How To Start The Conversation". Stanfield.Com, 2021, https://stanfield.com/teaching-mental-health/. Accessed 4 Mar 2021.