Addressing Mental Health Issues Without The Stigma

Mental health in a box!

In the back corner of my classroom is a big yellow box. It’s from a health ed resource company, and on the side it says Mental and Emotional Health.

Inside is a curriculum that is meant to teach my students about mental health in 4-6 lessons, and although it probably cost a fortune, I don’t think I’ve touched it in years.

Mental health can’t be taught in a few lessons, and it certainly doesn’t fit into a box. It’s not one-size fits all, and the curriculum should be based on the unique needs of a student population.

Just last year, the CDC released their first ever Report on Children’s Mental Health, in which they found that nearly 1 in 5 children aged 3-17 will suffer from mental health issues.

With that many of our students directly affected- and another large chunk of them close to someone who is — we need to make sure we’re addressing the topic in a way that is supportive, inclusive, and free of any stigma.

In this month’s issue of Choices, some very brave high school students share their personal stories of metal illness in the hopes of breaking that stigma down.

“We Have Depression” — online article and teacher resource page

Our counselor doing an active lesson with my 8th graders on healthy relationships.

This is a great article to share with an older middle school or high school class, as it focuses on the positive ways these kids are managing their illnesses through healthy coping skills like writing, therapy, support groups, and advocacy.

These kids serve as a powerful example that mental illness doesn’t have to prevent you from pursuing your passions, and that there is no shame in being open about who you are.

While we want to encourage that openness in our own students, we need to recognize that not every teacher is comfortable with the topic of mental health. Luckily, there are resources available.

There’s a program called U.S. Mental Health First Aid which offers an 8-hour training course to teach those who work with kids to identify and help when someone is experiencing a mental health or substance abuse issue. The program comes recommended by SAMHSA , is extremely low cost, and is offered all over the states

One of the student brainstorming samples from the design thinking challenge he led them through.

Another idea is to team up with the school counselor for lessons on mental health. Not only does this help the teacher, but the counselor gets a chance to develop a relationship with the students that isn’t based solely on letters of recommendation and schedule changes.

Of course, as much as we want the students to come to us “trusted adults,” more often than not, they’ll go to the Internet first. Online health searches have become the third most popular activity on the web; make sure they know how to evaluate resources and have some trusted sites on hand.KidsHealth.org is always a good place to start.

Next week: I’ll share a lesson and activity designed to help students locate and evaluate valid health resources online. (Spoiler alert: Yahoo Answers isn’t one of them.)

For a comprehensive guide to current best practice in school mental health, check out Promote to Prevent’s Whole-School Approach to Children’s Mental Health: A Practical Guide for Schools