The feature “Demystifying the Mind” addresses how schools are better meeting the mental health needs of students by teaching them about mental health. The resources in this toolkit equip you with suggestions for how to be proactive and build resilience in your school community.
“Demystifying the Mind” addresses new ways schools are addressing trauma and promoting mental health. Even if your school isn’t yet teaching about mental health in the curriculum, you have the opportunity to foster nurturing relationships with your students. This toolkit offers ways to 1) help young people move toward healing after experiencing trauma and 2) build resilience in your students, your colleagues and yourself.
- What types of trauma have my students experienced or are they currently experiencing?
- Do my students feel comfortable sharing their emotions with me? With their peers?
- What assets and resources available in my community can I use to build resilience in my students?
Take Care of Yourself First
It may seem counterintuitive, but educators hoping to address issues of trauma or mental health with students should first take inventory of their own emotions—even if the issues they plan to discuss with students do not directly relate to their personal lives. Find a colleague, counselor, mentor or community member to talk to so that, when you engage with students, you are fully present. This article from Edutopia provides a great starting point for teachers working through their own experiences. You can also utilize our article “I Thought About Quitting Today” and its accompanying toolkit to aid in assessing your mental and emotional health at school.
Break Down Barriers
Being real about your own experience with mental health—or the (anonymous) experience of someone close to you—can allow you to break barriers in discussing mental health with your students. Our article “Broken and Healing: Normalizing Mental Health Issues In Our Classrooms” illustrates how sharing your journey creates opportunities for students to express themselves. When handled skillfully, this type of disclosure not only establishes safety but also provides a model for students who otherwise might not know how to articulate their experience or how to react to a peer who experiences trauma.
To have productive conversations about trauma, students need to feel emotionally secure. Allow them to express themselves in a way that is authentic and comfortable. Here are a few suggestions:
- Teach and model empathy and active listening skills.
- Spend time at the beginning of the year with community-building curricula, creating a space where students know each other on a deeper level.
- Establish a pattern of intervening during conflicts or hurtful exchanges.
- Re-establish and reinforce classroom contract rules about sharing and discussion.
For more tips, see our PD Café on “Responding to Trauma in Your Classroom.” You can also look at our Let’s Talk! guide for facilitating critical conversations about difficult topics with students.
Form a Team
One of the best ways to successfully address mental health is to work with colleagues and stakeholders. The National Center for School Mental Health offers a guide for building a mental health team at your school. It offers tips for:
- Identifying systems already in place and addressing gaps that need to be filled
- Assigning roles and collaborating on teams
- Partnering with community organizations
- Templates for organizing your school's team
- Ongoing professional development resources
The most important thing to remember is that addressing mental health is an ongoing process. It will not always be easy, but over time you will improve, and you and your students will develop resiliency as you equip yourselves with tools to address mental health and trauma.
Promote Mental Health Wellness at Your School
Step 1: Take inventory.
Adults often don’t know when students are concerned about their mental health. They may not know how to approach this topic for fear of stigma. Check out the climate of the school, and research local community assessments about the health of young people in your area. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may also include data about your community in its Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System.
Step 2: Take the pledge.
Ensure students know there are resources available—whether through counseling on campus or elsewhere—to help with any problems they may have. Teachers can start by being aware of hotlines students can call anonymously and posting this information on classroom walls, like this one.
Consider participating in the National Alliance on Mental Illness' (NAMI) campaign, StigmaFree, to reduce stigma at school. Students can take a pledge to uncover misconceptions and stereotypes about mental illness and take action against stigma.
Step 3: Create a mental health first aid plan.
Create opportunities for school personnel to receive mental health first aid training. Check with local health departments and mental health organizations, or find more information through mentalhealthfirstaid.org or NAMI.
Step 4: Normalize mental health.
Encourage discussions about mental health year-round, not just when tragedy strikes or when there is a designated mental health day.
Toolkit for “Shelter From the Storm.”
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards: Unpacking Identity
ASCD Express: Addressing Mental Health In Schools (Vol. 13, Iss. 10, Jan. 2018)
The National Alliance on Mental Illness: Teens & Young Adults Resources
Two books that provide great tips and strategies are:
Teaching to Strengths: Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence, and Chronic Stress by Debbie Zacarian, Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz, and Judie Haynes
Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom by Kristin Souers with Pete Hall