Mental Health Awareness
With the recent school shootings in Arizona and Ohio, it’s important for your staff to know and understand the link between student behavior and mental health. A student’s mental health affects his or her classroom behavior. When a student causes disruption in the classroom, it can often be an indicator of more serious issues.
The National Institute of Mental Health defines mental illness as a complex illness that may come from a combination of genetics, chemical imbalances, congenital anomalies and conditions, or events. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), as defined by the CDC, can contribute to student mental health issues. ACEs are events such as the death of a close family member, illness of a parent, family financial problems, divorce, physical, sexual or emotional abuse, domestic violence, or ongoing social exclusion and bullying. Students under severe distress may exhibit:
- Highly disruptive behavior.
- Inability to communicate clearly.
- Threats to harm others.
- Overtly suicidal thoughts.
- Anger, irritability, and increased interpersonal difficulties.
- Marked changes in personal hygiene, noticeable weight gain or loss.
- Acting tired or lack of energy.
- Appearing noticeably anxious or panicked.
How can your staff identify and help a student with a potential mental illness? First, awareness is key. Be aware of the warning signs and changes in student behavior. If you have access to a school psychologist, he or she can be a valuable resource for students who may have potential mental health needs. If there isn’t a school psychologist readily available in your school or district, there will be a district policy or procedure to help students with potential mental health issues.
SafeSchools Training offers a Student Mental Health course that provides an overview of student behavior and mental health. This course is not meant as a diagnostic tool, however, this course may give you information that should be helpful in referring a student to a qualified professional. Diagnoses must always come from a certified professional who specializes in mental health.