The Role of Teachers in Students’ Mental Health
A classroom has many different faces. Young and gullible faces. Each of these face has a story behind it. Sometimes it’s a happy story and sometimes it’s not.
October is the Mental Health Awareness month. And as the name of this post suggests, we’ll explore the role of teachers in mental health of students. That’s not to say that the mental health of teachers don’t matter. Or that teachers don’t have any mental health issues. No denying that.
However, teachers and all adults are in a better position to understand the state of their mental health. We have access to resources that help us identify when our mental health is not at its peak. If not that, at the very least, we understand when something doesn’t feel quite right and when we need to seek help.
On the other hand, young and adolescent children don’t know what’s happening to them. Growing up comes with its own set of challenges. Add to that problems such as bullying, teasing, violence in the family, unhealthy relationships between parents or siblings, pressure to perform well in studies, comparisons, anxiety, unrealistic expectations, social media influence and so many more.
In the year 2020, around 12,526 students committed suicide in India, whereas in 2021 that number rose to 13,089. There are problems and issues that children go through which can have a damaging impact on their mental health, often causing everlasting changes to one’s personality. At times, even leading to death.
That’s why we often say that the job of a teacher is not easy. Teachers are the first line of defence for students, and there’s a great deal that a teacher can do to help a student struggling with mental health issues. Here are some of them…
Educate Your Students about Mental Health
To fight an enemy, you must know the enemy.
Very rarely do parents talk to their kids about mental health. Mental health is still considered a stigma in many households and therefore, people prefer to keep the topic under wraps. That’s where we need to begin.
We need to break the stigma around this subject, and internalise the fact that mental health issues are as normal as physical health issues. As teachers, we must first gain information about mental health and ensure we educate our students about the same using the age-specific resources and tools.
Once they know about mental health issues, they’ll be in a better position to identify it when they experience it, and seek help in time.
Identify Warning Signs
Teachers ought to be vigilant in classrooms. Whether it’s virtual or in-person. If a student seems disinterested or disengaged or their ability to explore, play and learn seems to be on a decline, that’s a sign that they need to be watched over carefully. Any change in behaviour such as withdrawal from the classroom activities should be a cue. Even deteriorating academic performance can be an indicator of unresolved issues bothering a child.
Now, we have to remember that not every time you spot something unusual can be the result of an underlying mental health issue. Sometimes, kids might just be having a bad day. However, if these signs are persistent over a few days, then you should be alarmed and take the right steps.
Listen, Gain Trust & Maintain Confidentiality
Once you spot a child with possible mental health issue, the first step is to have a conversation with them. Try to get them to open up to you about their problems, issues and feelings. Children will open up only when they have trust in their teachers.
Children ought to know if they open up to a teacher, what they said will not be misused against them and that it will be safe with the teacher. Teachers can then ask the child to select either a parent or a guardian whom they’d like to seek help from.
A child suffering from mental health issues should first and foremost feel safe and secure to talk about their problems. This is the first step towards dealing with the problem and often teachers can play a very important role in triggering such conversations and building trust.
Plan Relaxing Games & Interactive Activities
One of the best antidotes to sadness is happiness. Teachers can create opportunities that make children happy. Keeping time aside for play, fun and interactions as also integrating play with studies can keep students cheerful and engaged.
Communicating with fellow classmates would enable them to share their experiences. While they do this, ensure you are supervising and participating in these interactions so students feel comfortable when they need to share something with you in the future.
It’s important that we create camaraderie in our classrooms and build collaboration as opposed to fuelling unhealthy competition among students.
Take care of yourself and know your limits
Last but not the least, we understand the toll teaching can take on all teachers. It’s not easy managing so many children simultaneously every single day. It’s important that teachers prioritise their physical and mental health. Only then will they be able to take care of their students’ mental health and happiness.
Finally, as teachers, we must know our own limits. We are not psychologists or counsellors. Teachers cannot solve problems for their students, they can only detect that there might be a problem and connect students with the right people who can help them deal with their issues in a better way. Your job is to make help accessible whenever there is a need.
We hope this post was useful to you as a teacher, and brought to light one of the most important aspects of education.
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