Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) is a time to reflect on the importance of mental health and recognize the impact it has on students’ lives, their learning experiences, and their success outside of the classroom. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in six U.S. youth ages 6-17 experience a [diagnosed] mental health disorder each year.” This data reminds both parents and educators how vital it is to work together and support the mental health and emotional development of students.

There is a role for everyone in supporting mental health

Both teachers and caregivers play critical roles in nurturing young people’s mental health. Parents and caregivers can help children by making sure they have a predictable routine to make a busy school schedule a little less daunting and help alleviate stress. Setting regular times for meals, studying, extracurricular activities, and break times will provide a routine that promotes structure and balance.

Teachers are typically able to spot behavioral changes based on students’ interactions or performance in the classroom. It’s normal for children to go through changes, and both teachers and caregivers should work together to identify any noticeable differences in behavior to ensure students in need of extra support receive it. Actively supporting the mental health of learners will help them remain focused and become successful in the classroom. And quick interventions to issues students encounter can lead to better outcomes. 

Mirror healthy coping traits

Adults are the biggest role models for young students, and caregivers can help youth demonstrate how to deal with emotions in healthy ways. Adults should encourage kids to communicate their feelings and ensure they know that they are loved and supported. This helps them learn to express themselves and not hold their feelings in. Grownups should also teach children how to effectively solve problems and positively address conflict. Seizing opportunities to show kids examples of healthy coping skills can make a profound impact. Problem solving and healthy communication assists kids in dealing with challenges that come their way, and they will begin to gain the wisdom to intuitively know when to seek help from an adult who cares.

Encourage social connections 

Encouraging students to build strong social connections goes far to establish a sense of belonging and aids in their overall development. Teachers can create opportunities for students to collaborate (e.g., projects), play safely together, and learn about different cultures, which enhances empathy while reducing conflict. Setting aside designated time for students to decompress and enjoy each other’s company is a form of self-care and also serves as a much-needed break after an action-packed day. Students share a common experience together and should be able to lean on one another for support. These connections let kids know they are not alone and build supportive relationships that can last years.

While it is impossible to completely remove all stress from learners’ lives, taking steps to actively prioritize mental health and build communication skills promotes overall health and well-being. Kids greatly benefit from having adults invest in their mental well-being and care, so they should come together to create an environment where the emotional and social needs of children come first, in and out of the classroom.