Supporting Students with Mental Illness

In 7th grade I began to develop Major Depressive Disorder and anxiety. I never told anyone and no one seemed to notice. It wasn’t until this fall that I was officially diagnosed and began taking medication along with regular counseling session with a therapist here at CSU. So, there was 7 years of my life going through education being totally paralyzed by this disease. I think not only is it time that society as a whole begins to accept mental illness as an actual illness but educators specifically need to learn how to recognize mental disorders in their students.

I found some really incredible articles that teaches teachers how to be actually effective people in the struggling students’ lives.  The first article, “Mental Illness in the Classroom: How Educators Can Help Students Succeed“, is an awesome resource that is easy to read and quick to the point. It is broken into 5 easy steps that are pretty self-explanatory; 1. Educate yourself before you educate others 2. Be culturally sensitive 3. Create Awareness 4. Work with the students 5. Work with the parents.

The next resource I found is, “For Educators” from MentalHealth.gov. This is a simple article composed of lists for educators, such as; What Educators Should Know, What Educators Should Look for in Student Behavior, What Educators can do in Classrooms and Schools, and Developing Effective School Mental Health Programs.

The article, “Academic Accommodations for Students with Psychiatric Disabilities” is a great site because it has a list of all the mental disorders/”Psychiatric Diagnosis” with definitions, functional limitations, instructional strategies, and accommodations. This is a super helpful site because it honestly has everything anyone would need to know about a mental disorder and how to accommodate to it.

The last article I looked at was actually a lesson plan. This lesson plan comes from a book that is actually full of lesson plans for mental illness based content. This one in particular is for high school students and it “includes stories, discussion questions, and activities”.

Top 5 Take Aways:

  1. “A good practice is to document a student’s problematic behaviour. Keeping a record of past behavioural issues will give you an opportunity to notice trends, and will show parents that you have been thoughtful and have not jumped to any conclusions. When working with students, avoid using language that sounds like a diagnosis (e.g., “depressed”), and focus on symptoms instead. Labelling a student, especially early on in life, can be damaging to their progress. On the other hand, highlighting their achievements and positive attributes before discussing problematic behaviour or poor performance is critical. “
  2. I personally had never thought of reaching out beyond my classroom to other teachers so if I  can “Educate staff, parents, and students on symptoms of and help for mental health problems, promote social and emotional competency and build resilience, help ensure a positive, safe school environment, teach and reinforce positive behaviors and decision-making, encourage helping others, encourage good physical health, help ensure access to school-based mental health supports” I can not only help my students but hopefully get other teachers to also help their students.
  3. My favorite part from this article, was the “instructional strategies” list; Address a variety of learning styles (e.g. auditory, visual, kinesthetic, experiential, or a combination of styles), incorporate experiential learning activities, be prepared to set behavioral expectations for all students in your class, embrace diversity to include people with psychiatric disabilities.
  4. In the “Activities” section for the lesson plan, it had this activity which I love, “Are These the Normal Ups and Downs of Adolescence or Mental Illness?
    This is a worksheet that asks student to label described behaviors as either normal (N) or Abnormal (A). Students work either individually or with a partner(s) in doing the worksheet.  A class discussion follows in which students discuss their answers and the teacher acknowledges the complexity of diagnosing a mental illness. “
  5. This lesson plan gave me some ideas for future lesson plans in my content area.
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