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Mental Health Needs of Students and When to Intervene

March 5, 2015
14371191774_e2dba02cca_b I’ve spent a fair amount of time discussing teacher wellbeing, but there may be times you have questions about the wellbeing of your students. From cyberbullying and relational or physical violence, to extreme poverty or lack of resources in the home, your students likely face various challenges that could potentially tax their resilience and ability to function well in school. You may wonder how to recognize when your student is struggling with a mental health concern or how to know when to get involved. First, here is a strong resource to help guide you: The National Association of School Psychologists has an excellent library that lists topics alphabetically and provides a ton of materials for working with a variety of mental health and interpersonal concerns in school settings. How to know if your student is struggling and when to intervene:
  • In general, any drastic change in behavior can be an indicator of something larger. Since children are sometimes unable to speak to their needs or challenges the same way adults can, they often express needs or mood challenges behaviorally.  A child acting out or becoming increasingly defiant may be a signal of an underlying concern.
  • When a child shows a noticeable and consistent change in performance, this can be an indicator that something is going on. Choose a time when you have time to talk to the student, you have some privacy, and the conversation is free from conflict or redirection (in other words, don't bring this up in the middle of disciplining the student or fussing at him/her). If age appropriate, express your concern to the child about the change in their performance or any other concerns that you have. Sometimes taking the first step can lead to some important revelations. You can collaborate with other teachers or school counselors if you suspect a child may have a cognitive or mental health issue, learning disability, or environmental concern that is contributing to a child’s performance. If your district employs school psychologists, consider exploring the option of providing the child with academic or cognitive assessments to help tease apart the issue…with the consent of the parents, of course.
  • Depending on the particular circumstances, you may decide to involve the child’s parents in a discussion about your concerns for the child. Verifying what you have observed with a parent may provide evidence for an emerging mental health concern that if caught early could be addressed before it becomes a larger issue. Further, gaining the parents’ trust and collaboration may improve the outcomes for the child if it is determined that intervening is necessary.
  • If you suspect abuse or neglect is occurring in the home in any form, this is likely a reportable incident to Child Protective Services. Consult with your PD, administration, or school counselors if you suspect abuse or neglect, and together you can come to a decision about the best course of action.
Since you see your students on a day-to-day basis, you are well-positioned to notice any changes in a child’s behavior while at school—and poised to catch emerging issues early. But you don’t have to go it alone. If you have a concern, but are uncertain what your next steps should be, consider consulting with a trusted colleague or administrator about what to do next. Together you can determine the best course and how to ensure that the mental health needs of your students are being met. Please help create a culture in which mental health optimization is valued. Start by making a pledge to know the signs of suffering and share your commitment using the hashtag #ChangeMentalHealth.