Though they are often largely ignored, mental health problems can be a major issue, both among children and adults. Mental health problems can be debilitating, which is why they should be given more attention than they currently receive. Educators in schools should make the mental health of their students a priority. One out of five children and youth have some sort of diagnosable mental health disorder or emotional/behavioral issue, and one out of every ten young people have a severe mental health issue that can be debilitating enough that it interferes with their functioning in school and at home, as well as out in the community. Even though mental illness is so ubiquitous among these young people, somewhere between 50 and 80 percent of them do not receive the help that they need, when it has been shown that support is key to managing a mental disorder.
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It is important that the mental health of these young people is addressed in a timely manner, as they are so common among these students. Additionallly, there are many effective treatments for most disorders, so there is no reason for all of these young people to be suffering needlessly. It is important that they are treated as soon as possible, because early detection and intervention are most effective. If the problem is handled early on, it is easier to tackle than if it is only handled later after it has worsened. Handling these issues early can help make the individual more resilient and allow them to achieve success, unencumbered by the mental health problem. Youth with mental health problems often do not perform up to their potential in school and actually have the lowest graduation rate among all students with disabilities. Only 40 percent of students with these disorders nationally end up graduating from high school, compared to the 76 percent of average students. Mental disorders can impair academic performance and social functioning as well, making the life of the student who is suffering extremely difficult in multiple ways.
As an educator, there are many things that you can do to provide support to students. Though you should keep in mind that your capacity to support them is limited if you are not a qualified and licensed counselor, you can be more aware of behaviors that indicate mental health problems so that you know what to look out for in students. You should let your students know that you are available to talk to in the event of a mental health crisis, but also make it clear that you are not a counselor and your resources are limited as far as actually helping them goes. While you would appreciate them coming to you, as it shows that they trust and respect you, you would be doing the best thing for them by referring them to a trained counselor rather than trying to take on that role yourself. Show them that you care and be prepared to listen to them and understand what they are going through, and be accepting and non-judgmental. Encourage the student to seek the help that they need, possibly by making an appointment with a school counselor.
If a student does not come to you but seems to be dealing with mental health issues, you can gently raise your concerns with that student and let him or her know that you are available if someone to talk to is needed, but that the student should be going to someone qualified and trained to help, such as the school counselor. There are a few signs that you can watch out for in your students that might be indicative of mental health problems, such as constantly talking about their problems, acting out of character for long periods of time, showing unexpected bursts of emotion, becoming avoidant of friends or social situations, talking about hurting or killing themselves, or seeming to think no one cares about them or would notice if they were gone. In general, if you think that something may be wrong in a student's life, you can raise the concern with the student. If you don't know how to approach the situation, you can ask the school counselor for advice on how to handle it.
One disorder that might actually appear fairly obvious is compulsive skin picking, also known as dermatillomania. It is a compulsive disorder that compels people to pick at their skin incessantly, often causing damage. Because it is often very visible and has visible effects, you may be able to notice this if you see a student who has this condition. A surprising 1 in 20 people has this condition. Some of the most common indicators of this condition are visible sores or scars, a lack of ability to resist the urge to pick at one's skin, feelings of anxiety or tension right before picking it, and feelings of relaxation or release right after the person has picked the skin. Most commonly, people who are affected with this condition pick at their faces, although many pick at their arms and fingers as well.
If you suspect that a student at your school is dealing with dermatillomania or any other disorder, you should ask the school counselor for advice as to how to approach the situation. These situations can be very delicate, so you should make sure you are approaching it in the correct way before you actually take action.
Many students slip through the cracks of the educational system, simply because no one took the time to show that they cared and offered to assist the student in getting the appropriate help. This is a very real problem within the educational system, and you can do your part to combat it by taking notice when your students are going through problems. Make sure that you do not approach the student in an overly aggressive way, as this can be somewhat counterproductive. Mental health issues are very sensitive, and people often do not want to admit what they are going through for fear of being judged. This is why if you see that a student is likely suffering, you should make sure to take action, but only in the correct way. If you directly approach the student about the issue, make sure to do so gently and with sensitivity. Instead of being overly direct about what you are observing, start off by asking the student how he or she is doing and if there is anything the student would like to talk about. Mental health problems can be extremely difficult at any age, and the teen years are no exception. Helping the student through these sorts of problems can make real differences in the rest of their lives.