What Can Educators Do?
There are a range of interventions and strategies for students experiencing mental health challenges. For students with LDMH, the interventions and strategies used need to be adapted and tailored to meet their unique learning profile and address both the LDs and mental health issue. As an educator, here are some things that you can do to support students experiencing challenges in the Red Zone.
The first step is recognizing and identifying the signs of potential mental health problems. It is important to observe and document any concerning behaviour, and to ask yourself:
- Do others (educators and caregivers) have concerns about the student?
- Are the student’s behaviours persistent, severe, and significantly interfering with their ability to function?
- Are the student’s behaviours typical or has there been a change?
- Are the student’s behaviours age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate?
- Is the student in the green, yellow or red zone on the mental health continuum?
Work as a Team
If you have concerns, it is important to share the observations with others who can help to develop a plan to manage the behaviours at school and at home. Resources available in the school setting may include the principal, vice principal, school social worker, school psychologist, guidance counsellor, and the school support team. Each school board will have its own procedures to follow, but all school boards will have a process that educators can use to raise concerns about students who are experiencing mental health challenges.
You may also have to go beyond the school setting to access support. Often mental health issues are complex and require a careful assessment by a trained mental health professional to determine what might be going on for the student. As an educator, you can provide parents with written documentation of your observations, so that they may include your notes in any discussions with other professionals.
A team approach, with caregivers, school staff, and other professionals, is imperative to addressing the mental health challenges faced by students. Communication with caregivers and other professionals can be difficult and confusing at times. However, a lack of communication can have a negative effect on a student’s mental health. Regular and open communication is critical to the well-being of students and ensures everyone voice is heard and understood. Sensitivity may be needed when communicating with caregivers about a student’s behaviours. It is important to remember to start with the student’s strengths and not only focus on the behaviours of concern.
Although students with LDs are at risk of experiencing mental health issues, they also have protective factors, which help to foster resiliency and strength.
Staying in school is an important protective factor. A sense of belonging and school connectedness is central to diminishing risk and promoting well-being, despite how challenging school can be, academically and socially. Educators play an important role in advocating for a safe and supportive school environment (e.g., advocating for IEP’s and accommodations).
A relationship with someone who makes the student feel understood and supported is another major protective factor. Feeling understood and supported can make all the difference. According to Hurlington (2010), “Research suggests that the short-term intervention of even a single caring adult can make a profound difference.”
Setting students up for success and mastery, and celebrating the student’s strengths can help to promote well-being. Creating opportunities for success and mastery can support students in feeling confident, competent and capable.
Self-advocacy and self-determination skills are also important protective factors both in school and outside of school. Support your students in developing self-advocacy skills and be receptive to attempts at self-advocacy. Self-advocacy skills may take time to develop and look different over time.