When provided by qualified, trained teachers, health education helps students acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need for making healthy decisions. Teachers play a critical role when it comes to mental health in schools on multiple fronts. 1: Teachers can help destigmatize mental health challenges and build skills in help-seeking and self care.[1] 2: Teachers are often trusted adults in a student’s life, and can identify shifts in student behavior, making teachers a critical point to identify a student in need of support.

Effective Practices

  • Provide training and professional development to all school staff to increase awareness of mental health issues among young people, including what to do when a student is displaying troubling behaviors.

  • Include lessons on mental health, self care, and help-seeking behaviors in health education classes. Ensure health education curricula are inclusive of and relevant for students who identify as LBGTQ+, students of color, immigrant and refugee students and students who have been historically marginalized.

  • Partner with a school counselor, school psychologist or other school-based mental health professional when delivering units/lessons on mental health and suicide prevention. Show students how they can access help from those resources in school. Take a tour of the counseling office or school based health center.

  • Connect with community resources that can serve as speakers, partners and resources. For example, invite representatives from a local Youth Crisis Line or NAMI chapter. Reach out to culturally specific organizations or programs that serve youth and families in your community.

 Resources

Stories

Talking about Suicide, Mental Health and Substance Abuse with Native Youth: Skokomish Indian Tribe, WA

In November 2018, the Skokomish Indian Tribe began hosting biweekly Suicide Talking Circles for 10-24 year-old youth. This space connects Native youth with the tribe’s behavioral health staff; and provides resources and education about suicide, mental health, and substance abuse. Each session is opened and closed by a prayer or a song by a Skokomish tribal member. Through these talking circles, youth have shared powerful stories of bullying, self-harm, and hopelessness – topics that are very difficult and often not spoken about openly. We began our first session with “Shattering the Silence: Youth Suicide Prevention,” a TedxYouth talk by Sadie Penn. Sadie is a young person who attempted suicide, and has since become an advocate for suicide prevention. This video opened the dialogue, and gave youth the courage to share some of their stories. By request of the youth, we hosted parent sessions to discuss signs of suicidal ideation, ways to talk to children about suicide, and the brain chemistry of young people. Going forward, the talking circles will place emphasis on education regarding substance abuse, an issue that continues to grow in the Skokomish community. After just four talking circles, eight people have scheduled an appointment with a counselor, and we’ve found that conversations about mental health and suicide are becoming less stigmatized and more visible in Skokomish.

Information provided by Payton Bordley, MPA candidate at the UW Evans School & former Suicide Prevention Program Manager, Skokomish Indian Tribe paytonbordley@gmail.com

For more information: contact Amber Hanson, Suicide Prevention Program Manager, Skokomish Indian Tribe ahanson@skokomish.org

Addressing Mental Health & Stress in the Health Education Classroom

New Trier High School is a well-resourced school in an affluent area in the suburbs of Chicago. They have 4000 students split over two campuses with both freshman and sophomores taking health classes. Their standardized test scores and percentage of students going on to four year colleges are above state average. Students benefit from the wide range of support services based on site. They currently have 14 teachers teaching the health curriculum.

Their 9th grade health students study IQ v EQ (cognitive intelligence v emotional intelligence) so immediately they are encouraging them to identify and manage their emotions and asking them to think about how they make others feel and how they feel about themselves.

The educators at the school work very closely with a local service provider, Erika’s Lighthouse, who provide teen-oriented materials that allow our teachers to start open discussions about depression, normalizing these conversations and encouraging students to seek out in-school help for themselves.

On both campuses, mindful of the high levels of stress reported in our school YRBS data, health teachers will teach students how to identify and manage stress effectively. Regular stress-related activities including mindfulness, meditation and yoga are woven into the instruction. They are also fortunate to have teachers in our physical education and health program who offer sessions and electives in mindfulness and yoga.

All teachers at New Trier are mandated to take QPR training which equips us with skills needed to help a student who might be considering taking their own life. This QPR acronym is also shared with students in health class and displayed along with other mental health posters.

Q = question the student

P = persuade the students to seek help

R = refer the student to the appropriate resource

Their students know that the teachers value their social emotional help and as such, when applying health skills such as Accessing Valid Sources of Information, Goal Setting or Advocacy, they give students choice and voice by allowing them to demonstrate these skills while selecting health topics that resonate with them – many choose to look at stress and mental health.

Outside of the classroom, New Trier has the support of a whole school message with many additional SEL initiatives being provided. Health teachers work closely with the social workers and the advisory system ensuring that they share a consistent language and message. Freshman students attend a whole day seminar led by teachers AND older students addressing bullying and harassment.

The students have many clubs and activities offered and these clubs are promoted in the classrooms. Students can join our Erika’s Lighthouse club, promoting mental health awareness among their peers. The Peer Helping club also addresses social emotional issues on campus and are currently leading a random acts of kindness week. They also host two wellness fairs in which local service providers host a booth and raise awareness of the youth services that they provide – this can range from support through to encouraging students to serve on community boards.

For more information: Andy Milne, High School Health Teacher, milnea@newtrier.k12.il.us


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[1] Robert Milin, Stanley Kutcher, Stephen P. Lewis, Selena Walker, Yifeng Wei, Natasha Ferrill, Michael A. Armstrong. Impact of a Mental Health Curriculum on Knowledge and Stigma Among High School Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry,Volume 55, Issue 5,2016,Pages 383-391.