Responding To Student Mental Health Issues

Posted on

Recognizing & Responding to Student Mental Health Issues: Part One

Mental health and mental illness are topics that are at the forefront of national discussion and current events. And, while most dialogues center on mental health in adults, mental health in children should not be overlooked. “In fact, research has now shown that most mental health disorders follow a developmental course that typically starts early in life,” generally before the age of 24.[i]
In the United States alone, one in five children ages 13-18 “have a diagnosable emotional, behavioral or mental health disorder and 1 in 10 young people have a mental health challenge that is severe enough to impair how they function at home, school or in the community.”[ii]
Furthermore, “even though mental illness affects so many…kids aged 6-17, at least half (and many estimate as many as 80%) of them do not receive the mental health care they need.”[iii]
As children often spend a majority of their time in schools, symptoms of students’ mental health issues often manifest in these educational settings. For this reason, it’s critical that everyone—parents, teachers, counselors, and administrators—are trained and familiar with recognizing and responding to student mental health issues. This first article in a two-part series on student mental health issues focuses on identification of some of the more common mental illnesses among children and adolescents.

Common Student Mental Health Issues

While there are many different types of mental illnesses that affect students, according to research from the National Institutes of Health, the most common student mental health issues are related to conditions such as:

    •Eating Disorders
    •Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
    •Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
    •Substance Abuse
    •Bipolar Disorder

Less common mental health issues in students include:

    •Panic Disorder
    •Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
    •Borderline Personality Disorder
      •Autistic Spectrum Disorders


Recognizing Student Mental Health Issues

The first step in treating a students’ mental illness is being able to identify and recognize symptoms and behavioral traits that may be indicative of an underlying mental illness. Some of the more frequently seen symptoms of common mental health issues in students include:

    •Out-of-control risk-taking behaviors that pose a danger to themselves or others
    •Severe mood swings
    •Dramatic weight loss or gain
    •Repeated use of drugs or alcohol
    •Suicidal thoughts or actions
    •Intense, prolonged feelings of sadness, fatigue, or lack of motivation
    •Drastic changes in behavior or personality
    •Difficulty concentrating, focusing, or staying still
      •Extreme anxiety or fear that impacts normal activities


It’s important to remember, however, that recognizing student mental health issues is not a static or simple process. Every student is different and their mental illness may present or impact them in “a variety of ways to varying degrees in the school environment. One child’s symptoms may be really hard to manage at school while another child with the same condition may not have much difficulty.”[vi]

School Surveys to Identify Student Mental Health Issues

While student mental health issues are profoundly personal and no two cases are exactly the same, environmental factors can play a significant role in the development (and treatment) of mental illnesses. According to Richard McNally, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Harvard University and author of the 2011 book “What is Mental Illness?”, “mental illnesses are likely to have multiple causes, including genetic, biological and environmental factors.”[vii]
Since students spend, on average, at least eight hours in school environments on a daily basis, the evaluation of risk factors and school climate on a large scale can be helpful for educators to gain a data-driven perspective of the overall mental health of students at their school. These evaluation processes can also help administrators determine how the school environment as a whole is affecting the mental health of its students. One of the best ways to garner this information is through student surveys.
Anonymous student surveys, such as The Pride Learning Environment Survey, offer powerful information that allows administrators to analyze a number of critical factors such as:

    •Student-teacher relationships at school
    •Students at home and in the community
    •Student alcohol, tobacco and other drug use
    •Student mental health
    •School climate

Other student behaviors such as:

    •Absenteeism and suspension

Student Mental Health Issues in Schools

Clearly, student mental illness and mental health issues are a major concern affecting children and adolescents in schools all across the nation. Being able to identify the signs and symptoms of mental illness are a critical first step in recognizing student mental health issues. However, simple identification is not enough. Part two of this series will focus on strategies that parents, teachers, administrators, and counselors can use when responding to student mental health issues and helping affected students get the treatment and assistance that they need.

[i]“Child and Adolescent Mental Health.” National Institute for Mental Health. Retrieved from on July 25, 2016.

[ii]Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., et al. (2005). Life-time prevalence and age-of-onset distribution of DSM-IV disorders in the national co-morbidity survey replication. Archives of General Psychiatry 62, 593-602.

[iii]Kataoka, S.; Zhang, L.; & Wells, K. (2002). Unmet need for mental health care among U.S. children: Variation by ethnicity and insurance status. American Journal of Psychiatry, 159(9), pp. 1548-1555.

[iv]“Common Mental Health Problems.” U.S. National Library of Medicine (National Institutes of Health). Retrieved from on July 25, 2016.

[v]“Mental Health Facts: Children and Teens.” National Alliance on Mental Illness. Retrieved from on July 26, 2016.

[vi]“Problems at School.” Association for Children’s Mental Health: Michigan. Retrieved from on July 26, 2016.

[vii]“The Roots of Mental Illness.” Weir, Kirsten. Monitor on Psychology (June 2012). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from on July 26, 2016.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)