Minimizing the stigma around mental health in schools
Mental health is not a new epidemic. Especially in recent years, a lot more conversations have been opened up surrounding the topic, endeavoring to lift any stigma around discussing mental health and making an open space for people to be open with their emotions. However, there is clearly more work to be done, not least in schools. According to data from the CDC, the number of US children with anxiety and depression has risen over the past few years, from 5.4% in 2003 to 8.4% in 2011-2012.* Therefore, Senso believes that schools should endeavor to provide as much support as possible to their students when concerned with mental health, and our latest blog will explore how educators can do so.
Open up conversations around mental health
One of the easiest ways to destigmatize a topic is to start a conversation on it. Educators have a position of leadership and respect, and students will naturally follow from this. Therefore, using your voice to speak up on certain subjects can be very influential and important. Some ways you can open a conversation concerning students mental health include:
- Making time for daily check-ins, to make sure students feel happy with school, lessons, themselves, and so on. This could be a whole-class activity, where students volunteer to share what they are currently happy about.
- Letting students know who and when they can visit if they need to talk about anything – maybe your school has a student support classroom, or you have an open-door policy during certain quiet periods.
- Research different mental health resources available to schools. There are a wealth of resources out there that educators can introduce into their classrooms, which can help children understand what mental health is and how to cope with any feelings they may have.
Think about the language you use
Language can be one of your most powerful tools in any context. Being careful with the words you say can send out strong messages, and set a good example for your students to follow. When it comes to the mental health of students, it is easy for biased or stigmatizing language to creep in. By choosing your words, you can convey more positive meanings. Whilst there are lots of resources available that can advise on the type of language to use and the context to use it in, Senso have a couple of ideas to get you started:
- Encourage your students to treat people with kindness. Children might not realize the impact of their words, but their teachers can help them realize how important words and actions can be in making other people feel happy or sad. If a student makes a comment that could be mean or hurtful, try talking to them in a private setting and explaining how their words could make someone else feel.
- Think about the language you use to describe mental health itself. For example, describing someone as ‘She’s depressed’ or ‘He’s just a bit down’ can be harmful and set stigmatized views of mental health in place. Try saying ‘She has a diagnosis of depression’, or perhaps ‘She has depression’ if you are dealing with younger students. This helps avoid reducing a person to just their mental health condition, and will help children see that people are more than just a mental illness. Similarly, avoid downplaying the significance of mental health – saying somebody is ‘just a bit down’ can be invalidating and paints a mental health condition as something over-exaggerated or less serious.
Encourage other ways of boosting mental health in school
Mental health is made of many aspects, and there are other ways that may help you cope. Educators can give their students ideas on ways to boost their mood and encourage them or check up on them. Here are some ways educators can help students work on improving their mental health:
- Encourage or initiate physical exercise. Exercise has many proven benefits, and can release endorphins and improve overall mood, as well as the physical benefits of staying active.
- Incorporate mindfulness into your routine. If your teaching routine allows it, why not start the day by taking one minute to reflect on what you are grateful for, or what you want to achieve that day, with your class? You could open the conversation to allow students to contribute, or simply lead the conversation and let the children reflect on your words. Mindfulness and gratitude have proven mental health benefits.
- Encourage your students to connect with each other. Fostering an environment where students can talk freely to their classmates, or even to their teacher, may help students control and rationalize their emotions.
We know mental health in schools is a big topic, but we hope some of our tips for destigmatizing it has inspired you. If you’d like to talk to us about any of our products, or ask anything we haven’t covered in this article, why not call us on 866-664-1520?