How can students’ mental health suffer in school?
When we think of school, we often think of fun, friendships and learning. However, while this might be true for primary schools, can the same be said for secondary schools? Let’s start with primary schools.
How can students’ mental health suffer in primary school?
- The Transition: entering a new school or school for the first time can be an overwhelming experience. Everyone must do it; however, this can be a real challenge for young children and take them a long time to settle in. The fear of the unknown and the struggle to make new friends may cause anxiety.
- Developmental Milestones: Primary school is a time of significant developmental changes. There are a vast number of physical and mental developments in these early years that can cause confusion and anxiety.
- Social Comparison: This begins in later primary school before transitioning to secondary school. Social media and connecting with others online have become more frequent and common. Intrusive thoughts of physical appearance, social status and desire to fit in among friends’ interests and activities are more prominent.
- Bullying: Bullying, whether online or in person, is something that we will most likely never be able to eliminate entirely. Being involved or even witnessing this type of behaviour from a young age can severely impact a child’s mental health.
- Academic Struggles: Some learning disabilities may not be picked up until late in primary school, meaning many students can struggle mentally due to their academic capabilities through primary school.
How can students’ mental health suffer in secondary school?
While primary school struggles can remain the same in secondary school, there are naturally differences in the factors that can affect a student's mental health. Here we go;
- Sexual Identity: Sexuality and experimenting comes to the forefront in secondary. Students start having partners, and exploring their sexual orientation can be confusing, lonesome, and pressuring.
- Family Issues: As students get older, they become more aware of issues that might arise at home. For example, financial issues. Family financial pressure can hit home as students enter the final stages of secondary school, and college/university costs become more real. Students can feel this pressure, and it can cause feelings of guilt and pressure to contribute or go down another path.
- Pressure Planning for the Future: Pressure can be placed on students to decide what career choices they should make at the later stages of secondary school. Feelings of conflict in deciding what life they want after school can be mentally draining. Fear of making the wrong choice, not knowing what college/university to attend, and pressure to follow friends. There is also an influx of opinions from family members, friends and teachers, all having their say on what students should do. This does make life more confusing, even with the best intentions.
4. Peer Pressure: Peer pressure is at an all-time high in secondary schools. There is constant comparison in schools and on social media to give a perception of having the most fun, the nicest things and being the most popular. Social norms are so much more advanced than years ago. We still have the issues of drinking, smoking and going out to fit in. However, students are now pressured to fit in online, dictating the content they post and consume. This can lead to stress, inadequacy, and mental health issues.
5. Substance Abuse: Experimenting with alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and, most recently, vaping can cause mental and physical strains. They are depressants and can affect students. It’s frustrating as adults that this type of temptation comes at an age where there is enough internal turmoil and the addition of substances is not required.
How can we teach students about mental health?
Watch out for the warning signs
Promote Digital Wellbeing
The warning signs of a student’s mental difficulty can sometimes be hard to spot. The main one could be a behaviour change. If you notice that they are not acting or behaving as they usually would in class, there might be something wrong. Withdrawing from participating in class or socialising with friends could be another indicator. Anxiety, depression, and fidgety behaviour can also be indicators. Teachers and school staff should be trained to catch these warning signs early and act accordingly.
Start educating in your school as early as you can about mental health. We live in a time when there is no longer a heavy stigma around mental health and seeking help. We dedicate a class a week to physical education. Should we do the same for mental education?
If we cannot allocate a class to mental health, perhaps it’s worth bringing in a monthly guest speaker or mental health advocate to speak to students about mental health. We are inundated with social media influencers speaking about mental health and kindness; let’s utilise them. Find a local spokesperson in your area and invite them to give a seminar in your school.
Digital well-being is so essential. Comprehending how many mental health issues come from social media and being hooked on digital devices is challenging. Instilling independence, free thinking and confidence in our students today is more critical than ever.
What are the warning signs that a student’s mental health is suffering?
Mental health is tricky as there are so many ways that mental health issues can manifest. We have listed 10 warning signs that might help you with your students.
- Changes in behaviour
- More emotional or in emotional distress
- Social isolation
- Appetite or weight changes
- Poor concentration
- Lack of interest in personal care
- Fatigue or over-tiredness
- Seemingly overwhelmed
- Substance abuse