When it comes to the mental health of students at any institution there is a multitude of factors, but teachers can make or break an individual's experience.
Everyone that has gone to school has had mixed experiences with their teachers. Some teachers are so passionate that they make the classroom come alive while others would prefer to read straight from the textbook. While these behaviors may make you love or hate your teachers, the impact that they have on their students extends far beyond the classroom.
Particularly, when addressing the mental health of students in their classes, teachers have the potential to be the first line of defense when it comes to making sure their students are doing well. Most students spend more time in school with their teachers than they do with their parents. While teachers of all subjects are no experts in wellness, they do have a unique observational potential when it comes to identifying students that may be behaving irregularly or feeling down. This can become incredibly important considering the fact that major depressive episodes among children aged 12-17 have doubled over the past year.
Some schools have come to realize this fact, and have decided to invest in training their teachers and staff to recognize the effects that mental issues may have on students in the classroom. For example, Penn State University recently began the Red Folder program, whose 4 tenets are recognize, respond, refer, and resources. Training its staff to not only recognize students that are in distress but also have the ability to respectfully refer them to the correct services allows the University a better chance to care for their students.
While it may seem trivial, this type of care for students can be life-saving, as seen in Hati Sparey-South’s story of struggle with mental health. The then teen from the UK was dealing with severe depression around the age of fourteen. By this time Hati had already attempted suicide once before and had been dealing with her condition for years. It all changed with a simple question from her teacher, “How are you?” Hati responded honestly, and opened up to the teacher, explaining that she felt sad all the time and began to cry. “She would always ask people how they were. But it really hit me because I hadn't had that,” said Hati. After this experience, her teacher assisted her in seeking mental health care, and Hati maintains that this moment and teacher saved her life.
The mark that can be made by teachers on students can sometimes be life-changing, but only if they are rightly prepared to do so. Considering the state of youth mental health in America, and around the world, it is paramount to not only have teachers who are academically intelligent, but also emotionally intelligent, so they can better look after our children and change more lives.