Children’s Mental Health Concerns and How Schools Can Spot Them

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Hey, Principals — Administrating schools comes with more tasks than any one person can master. One item that we simply can’t have falling off our radar, however, is children’s mental health. Challenges in this area are showing up earlier and more often, and HeyKiddo is on a mission to support students everywhere when concerns arise.

Hey, PTAS — We see you, too. You’re doing incredible work, and we know supporting emotional wellness for your school’s students falls into your wheelhouse. We’d be honored to help you make a difference in this area as well.

More About Children’s Mental Health Concerns in Schools

In 2020, children between 5 and 11 years old saw a 24% increase in mental health-related emergency room visits, while 12-17-year-olds saw an increase of over 30%. Early intervention —from suicide prevention all the way down to social-emotional skill building— is an excellent way to support child health before the breaking point. 

Common signs of mental health challenges and conditions in young children:

Mental illness in children is unfortunately common. The CDC reports as many as 1 in every 6 students has behavioral or emotional symptoms severe enough to be given a diagnosis by a mental health professional. Some of the most common challenges students in school face include:

  • Anxiety disorders and depression
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • ODD and other behavioral health disorders

Top signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for include:

  • Feeling sad or not participating in regular activities for more than two weeks
  • Sudden and overwhelming fear for an unknown reason
  • Worries that get in the way of classwork or other activities
  • Extreme difficulty concentrating or staying still, resulting in disruptive behaviors
  • Severe mood swings or drastic changes in behavior
  • Attempts to harm oneself, a plan to do so, or social media posts that may suggest the thought has occurred
  • Attempts to hurt others or participation in many fights
  • Out of control behavior that could lead to self-harm or injury to others
  • Not eating, throwing up to lose weight, or other eating disorder signs
  • Recent exposure to or mentions of traumatic events
  • Substance use and/or exposure to family substance abuse

What teachers and school staff can do to help:

Of course, any and all of these signs are concerning. It’s important to reach out to the affected student(s), but this should be done in a way that is caring, supportive, and non-judgemental. When appropriate, caregivers or other family members can be included in the conversation, and referrals to professional mental health services or specific providers can be shared.

Each sign of mental health disorders requires its own reaction, but by taking the following steps, you can ensure your teachers and school staff are ready to support the well-being of young people however they need:

  • Educate students, parents, and staff on the symptoms and risk factors of mental health conditions, beginning in the early childhood and elementary years
  • Take initiative to create a safe, positive, and accepting school environment
  • Provide access to mental health information and resources, whether that is through outside services or an in-school counselor
  • Encourage students to prioritize their mental and physical health
  • Teach students about positive behaviors and encourage helping others
  • Help children and staff alike learn about and master the skills that relate to social and emotional health

If your school could benefit from youth social and emotional wellness training and resources, HeyKiddo’s curriculum can help. Formed by psychologists specifically for educators of elementary-aged students, the program can support resilience, mindfulness, critical thinking, and more prosocial skills, giving kids and teachers the ability to help themselves and those around them through any concern that may come up.

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