Students are some of the most vulnerable to mental health issues. The World Health Organization reports that 10 to 20% of adolescents, or those aged 10 to 19 years old, suffer from mental health problems but are often undiagnosed.
The teen years are when they are eager to explore their identity while feeling pressure to fit in with their peers. At such a crucial stage of development, adolescents need proper guidance to cope with the many changes they may be experiencing.
As educators, our role is to familiarise them with the significance of mental health in their lives. Awareness helps students process their feelings and healthily address their worries.
Helpful Tips for Teaching Mental Health
Let them learn from experts.
There are times when your knowledge of mental health concepts may not be sufficient in teaching students. The good news is that you don’t have to do all the teaching on your own.
Do not hesitate to invite a therapist, a psychiatrist, or a school guidance counsellor to speak in your class. They have the professional experience to explain how teenagers can stay mentally healthy and have the capability to answer queries from students.
The digital sphere also has a wealth of resources to enrich your students’ learning. Look for online talks on various topics in mental health and attend these with them to process their learning together.
As a teacher, gaining more knowledge about mental health greatly helps you and your students promote awareness. Learn from webinars and talks on counselling to support your students better.
Use media and pop culture.
Using materials your students can relate to or have an interest in makes them more enthusiastic about learning the rougher aspects of mental health. Watch child-friendly movies that can spark a discussion on mental health and illness within a safe space.
For example, the movie Inside Out has been applauded for simplifying psychology for all viewers. It provides an enjoyable launchpad for further conversations about working through feelings.
Discussing the heavier topics of grief and loss are also easier to discuss with a common ground that every student can comfortably refer back to. Mental health and illness are not always the easiest topics to open up to a class, but giving them relatable materials will help them stay engaged.
Apply concepts to real life.
Mental health awareness should not end with students understanding the topic only from the lens of pop culture. The main goal of teaching your students about mental health is to allow them to apply what they learn in real life.
After teaching them the concepts, give them opportunities to think of these in terms of their personal lives and share their own experiences. You may even offer to speak with them one on one or in small groups should they struggle to discuss with the whole class.
Keep in mind that not everyone will be comfortable opening up at all, especially to their teacher. Be patient and sensitive should any of your students have trouble with the concepts. Offer assistance and show empathy, but never force them to open up.
You may instead refer them to people whom they may find it easier to speak with. But keep the door open if they decide to talk to you about their struggles.
Its Importance in COVID-19 Times
The Pandemic’s Effect on Mental Health
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it trickier to address mental health concerns effectively. Students, in particular, have had to cope with the sudden change of routines, including the shift to distance learning. This has caused many to experience “Zoom fatigue,” or burnout from the extensive use of virtual platforms for meetings.
Exhaustion may be making it harder for students to pay attention in class. To combat this, switch up your teaching style occasionally, such as assigning mail-in assignments if class meetings are not required. If the session is long, have breaks in between topics to allow everyone to recharge.
In addition to distance learning, adolescents have also lost the opportunity to experience and celebrate significant milestones with their friends. Not being able to socialise in person may be making it tougher for them to make meaningful connections.
How Awareness Helps Students
Mental health awareness has become important to equip students with healthy coping methods during this confusing time. Without the proper tools, stress is harder to manage.
These discussions on mental health validate the experiences of adolescents, which allows them to process their emotions better. Mental health awareness ultimately invites students to grow kinder and more empathetic, especially during difficult times.