According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five young people ages 13-18 have, or will have, a serious mental illness in their life, and half of all lifetime cases of mental illness start by age 14. Unaddressed mental health concerns in young people can affect every aspect of their lives — from relationships with classmates to performance in school — and teachers are in a unique position to notice and intervene when a student may be struggling.
Know the signs:
1. Youth have unique risk factors for mental health problems, especially when you consider today’s often highly-competitive, stressful school environment. Knowing what signs to look for—like withdrawing from friends, dramatically increased or decreased appetite or acting out uncharacteristically—can help you know when you may need to offer support to a student.
2. Know how to start a conversation. Though more people are now talking openly about mental health, stigma is pervasive and can make having conversations about mental health tough—especially for young people. Being genuine is a good place to start.
3. Know what resources are available. Does your school have a mental health counselor? Is it appropriate to involve parents or other caregivers? Are there support groups in the area that might be helpful? Know what resources are available in your school and community so you can be prepared to offer information to a student who needs it. Being able to provide a young person with information on what help is available can be an invaluable tool.
4. Take care of yourself. “You can’t serve from an empty vessel.” The act of providing support to others can sometimes leave you feeling worn out, frustrated or even angry. Taking the time to do things for yourself—like taking a walk, doing some breathing exercises or venting to an understanding friend—will help you stay healthy, happy and in a better frame of mind to care for others.