A Student Take: 7 Ways to Improve Student Mental Health
As a kid, it can be hard to ask for help. Parents can be oblivious to the fact that kids can be depressed and struggle over things like school work or being unable to pull themselves out of a toxic space. The adults in students’ lives may not put much thought into youth mental health—but it’s worth paying closer attention to. You might see symptoms of mental health issues—including persistent sadness, withdrawal from social interaction, outbursts, changes in eating habits, etc., according the Mayo Clinic. But it’s time to do more than just observe; we need to learn what we can do to help.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 13% of teenagers reported a major depressive episode in 2019, up from 60% in 2007. Suicide rates rose about the same amount, after remaining steady from 2000 to 2007. And those numbers have only gone up with the COVID pandemic.
Speaking from Personal Experience
I speak from experience. It is hard to speak up. Before, I was hurting myself—not physically but emotionally—I couldn’t talk about what was going on and what I was feeling. I kept all my emotions bottled up and never spoke about it with anyone, not even my mom or sister. It got to the point where I would have anxiety attacks at night or cry in my sleep. I wasn’t sure why.
It wasn’t until I had a deep conversation with my mother about what was hurting me. I used to think, like many other people, that I could hold everything within me—but many things shouldn’t be. I knew I could tell my mom things. And I knew that I am/was important to her, but I never told her what I was thinking. (I thought that I would add stress to her plate.) It was only when my mom made it known that I was important and that she was there to hear me out that I knew it was okay to let out my pain, sadness, anger, and more.
7 Things Parents and Educators Can Do Now to Help Kids
The proposals in the Minnesota Legislature that included funding for mental health assistance in schools failed. So while we continue to advocate for support from leadership in the state, here are seven things from the CDC and counselors I’ve worked with that adults can do now to help kids, especially parents and educators.
1. Create a sense of belonging.
Promoting mental well-being requires solid and positive relationships between youth, teachers, and parents. Reassurance for a person is very important to have a sense of belonging.
2. Involve kids in decision-making.
Adults often believe they know what is best for adolescents, so children are usually excluded from the decision-making process. Of course, parents will likely make the final decision, but finding methods to involve your kid in decision-making might help them feel heard and appreciated.
3. Watch for behavior changes.
If a young person has grown more distant or disconnected from their friends or family, it might be a sign that they’re going through something they can’t process on their own. So check in and let them know you’re there for them.
4. Keep them active.
Physical activity is extremely helpful to both youth and adults’ mental health. So set aside time each day to enjoy some fresh air and Vitamin D by moving around outside.
5. Healthy meals.
Something as seemingly simple as a healthy meal can change a child’s mood almost instantly.
6. Getting professional help.
Pretty self-explanatory, I know. But getting your young one the backup help they need to find on their voice shouldn’t be overlooked.
7. Talk to them, and be truthful.
The word “sad” is softer on the ears than “depressed,” just like “scared” or “fearful” is more digestible to a child than “anxiety.” But being honest and using words to help them understand what they are experiencing will alert them to what they are experiencing and help them understand it.
While these may seem obvious, please take them to heart. Minnesota youth can’t succeed without proper access to mental health support. And it’s going to take all of us to support students as they work to overcome the challenges they increasingly face. I’ve spoken to my legislators, talked with staff at my school, and am looking to you. So will you step up with me?
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
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