Today’s young people face a range of mental health challenges, including anxiety, stress, depression, cyberbullying, eating disorders, and substance abuse. The pressure to excel academically, socially, and digitally can lead to high levels of stress and anxiety among youth, impacting their ability to focus, make decisions, or even be present with others.
In an earlier post, we saw the pervasive levels of loneliness among adults. Sadly, feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and isolation are also common among young individuals. The digital age has introduced new challenges, with cyberbullying being a major cause of emotional distress. According to research from Stanford University, young people are intentionally and unintentionally using social media to make themselves “feel good”, but the constant comparison puts a toll on young people’s sense of worth and overall mental health.
While the digital age has brought many positive aspects to youth, we cannot be dismissive of its negative effects. If you want resources about this topic, check out #GoodforMEdia, a peer mentoring campaign for older teens and young adults to share their personal stories, insights, and strategies with younger teens and tweens to support their healthy engagement with technology and social media.
For educators, school leaders, and caregivers recognizing the warning signs of mental health issues in young people is crucial. These signs may include:
Sudden and significant changes in behavior or mood.
Withdrawal from social activities and friends.
Decline in academic performance.
Frequent physical complaints (headaches, stomachaches) with no apparent medical cause.
Extreme irritability or mood swings.
Expressing feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.
Changes in eating or sleeping habits.
Frequent talk of death or suicide.
Educators and school leaders can play a crucial role in promoting youth mental health and well-being within the school environment. Successful initiatives aimed at promoting youth mental health often involve awareness, education, and support.
If you are planning to address youth mental health in your school or district, check out Teaching with the HEART in Mind to learn how to create a supportive environment where students can thrive.
Here are some recommendations:
Promote Mental Health Literacy: Incorporate the discussion of mental health and common mental health concerns into the curriculum, both during SEL time and in other content areas. These conversations should be seen as a shared responsibility among faculty, not only reserved for the school counselor.
Train Educators: Not all educators feel comfortable discussing mental health challenges with their students. Provide professional development for educators to recognize signs of mental distress and guide students to appropriate resources. This support should include a plan for how each classroom can create an environment where students feel safe to express their feelings and seek help when needed.
Create Regular Check-in Opportunities: Establish time on the calendar for staff to regularly check in with students to assess their emotional wellbeing, and offer resources when appropriate. These opportunities should be part of the school’s routine, and not something that is only done when students are in crisis.
Establish a Youth Advisory Group: Young people should be part of the decision-making process to create structures and resources that truly meet their needs. In addition, establishing peer support programs can be beneficial so students can seek help and guidance from their peers and/or youth-led organizations.
Collaborate with Mental Health Professionals: The school should have a clear referral process and ensure educators are aware of and can refer students to mental health resources. When possible, schools can seek partnerships with mental health professionals and counselors to provide on-site support and resources.
By understanding the challenges young people face, recognizing the impact of the digital age, and staying vigilant for warning signs, educators and school leaders can make a positive difference in the lives of their students. Fostering a culture of empathy, open communication, and care along with the appropriate mental health resources can create an environment for young people to feel safe, get healthy, and thrive.
Need support to address the mental health of students in your school or district? Get in touch.