Helping Students with Mental Illness

How Teachers and Counselors Can Help Students with Mental Health Disorders

School students today face so many challenges as they navigate their way through adolescence. For middle school and high school students suffering from mental and behavioral health conditions as well as substance abuse issues, a day at school can often seem unbearable.

But with the help of teachers and counselors working together, students struggling with these conditions can survive and thrive at school.

Mental Health and Behavioral Health Conditions

According to the Association for Children’s Mental Health (ACMH), one in five children and youth have a diagnosable serious emotional disturbance (SED), including a behavioral, a mental, or an emotional health disorder. One in ten suffer from a mental health condition so severe that it impacts how they function at school and home. More than half of students 14 years and older with emotional and behavioral conditions drop out of high school.

The following are mental and behavioral conditions that students often suffer from, as cited by the Mayo Clinic:

  • Mood disorders (including depression and bipolar disorder)
  • Anxiety (including generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • ADD and ADHD
  • Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Mental health issues affect kids socially and academically, making it difficult for them to endure a regular school day. Teachers and counselors play a key role in students’ academic success when they’re battling these health conditions.

Substance Abuse Among Students

Mental and behavioral health issues often go hand-in-hand with substance abuse. Students become depressed, anxious, or ill and turn to alcohol and drugs for relief, particularly if they don’t feel as though they have the support from their family and school staff. Approaching a teen who has turned to substance use to cope can be difficult, especially during this vulnerable time in their life.

When students have a mental health condition and drug or alcohol addiction at the same time, it is called a dual diagnosis or co-occurring condition. Teens suffering from dual diagnosis should receive integrated intervention, a method of care that provides therapy for the student’s mental illness as well as treatment for their addiction.

How Counseling Can Help Teens

Mental and behavioral health counselors and substance abuse counselors can help students with diagnosing conditions and addressing the challenges of being successful at school while dealing with issues like depression, anxiety, or addiction. They can serve as a support system, helping teens overcome these challenges.

How Counselors and Teachers Can Work Together

When teachers and counselors work together with families to implement strategies and coping mechanisms students can use in school, they’re more likely to make it successfully through the school day. Counselors and teachers can collaborate using these guidelines to help students with behavioral health and mental health conditions.

  • They can provide input for students using an individualized education plan (IEP) or 504 plan.
  • Effective plans are tailored to meet students’ individual needs, rather than cookie cutter templates designed for all students with behavioral health issues.
  • Identify triggers at school and in the classroom. For example, a child with anxiety may escalate during lunch when they don’t have anyone to sit with.
  • Counselors can work with teachers to help identify when a student is showing symptoms in the classroom.
  • Counselors can train teachers to intervene when they recognize symptoms and help the student implement coping strategies.
  • Counselors and teachers may offer students built-in breaks to avoid symptoms growing out of control.

It’s not easy for kids dealing with mental or behavioral health conditions to stay on top of homework, sports, and social activities. With the help of counselors and teachers working together to support students in school, they can be successful!

If you are concerned for a child you know who may be suffering from mental illness and/or addiction, contact Mazzitti and Sullivan to learn about our adolescent mental health and substance use services.