The Educators’ Role in Student Mental Health

Some students may experience issues that go beyond the typical ups and downs experienced by their peers. A number of students may experience significant mental health issues that interfere with day to day functioning. These students and their families may need intervention to engage in school successfully, to navigate peer relationships, and to manage intense emotions and behaviours.

“While educators cannot and should not attempt to diagnose mental health problems, they have an important role in: promoting positive mental health at school; identifying students who may have mental health problems; and connecting those students with appropriate services.”

Supporting Minds: An Educators Guide to Promoting Students' Mental Health and Well-being, pg. 6 [1]

student mental healthEducators have a unique opportunity to support and foster student well-being and resiliency. By seeking to understand a student’s learning strengths, to empathize with their challenges, and to foster the development of lagging skills and opportunities for success, you can create an environment for positive well-being.

Educators are also in a key position to identify and flag concerns around mental health challenges in the school setting, as they spend a considerable amount of time with students. Educators are often able to observe aspects of a student’s behaviour in the school setting, which may not be evident to a caregiver or mental health professional. Observations of certain behaviours can help to provide a profile of how a student is functioning at school.

Educators should record their observations as objectively as possible and attempt to determine if the behaviours are significantly interfering with the student’s ability to function. It is important to share the observations with the family and the school support team or the principal. Remember to frame your input as observations and not a diagnosis.

If the behaviours are significantly interfering with a student’s ability to function, they may need further support. Once a potential mental health concern has been flagged, educators have an important role in seeking additional support for the student. Thus, it is important to have an understanding of when to be concerned and how to access additional support.

The About Kids Health website, created by the Hospital for Sick Children, offers the Mental Health Learning Hub, which contains resources for parents on how to support their child's mental health and general well-being through physical activity, sleep and nutrition. It also provides information on the signs, symptoms and treatments of different mental health conditions, including anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, behavioural disorders, anorexia nervosa and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Although created for parents, this website can help educators identify whether the behaviours that are interfering with a student's ability to function may indicate a mental health problem.

Click here to access About Kids Health Mental Health Hub.

[1] Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013