Promoting and Protecting Mental Health In The Classroom

Selena De Rose, Ashley McNabb-Hart, Hewson Nguyen, Sam Surtees and Hannah Parker

Please cite this page as:

Rose, S. D., Surtees, S., Nguyen, H., Parker, H., & McNabb-Hart, A. (2022, April 1). Promoting and protecting mental health in the classroom. Classroom Practice in 2022. Retrieved [date] , from

Statistics of Mental Health and Illness in Youth

Mental health has been a topic that has been discussed in schools, as well as environments outside of school. Mental health and illness can affect all human lives and well-being (Butler and Pang, 2014, pg. 1). The following terms “mental illness and addiction refer to wide ranges of disorders. The disorders are categorised in moods, behaviours and thinking” (CAMH, no date). In mental health, some disorders include depression, schizophrenia, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders. According to Canada Public Health, about “a third of Canadians will be affected by a mental illness during their lifetime” (Canada Public Health, 2020). As you can see, mental health can affect anyone. Some of the factors that may lead to illnesses may include “past family history, stressful life events, nearby early life experiences and socio-economic statuses” (Canada Public Health, 2020). It is important to seek support and provide support to your close ones if it is needed. Even though mental health can affect anyone, this topic has been on the rise for children and teens. In a 2011 study on mental health, “between 15% and 25% of Canadians have experienced at least one mental health problem or illness before turning the age of 19” (Butler and Pang, 2014, pg. 1). From that, we do not want this issue to go further, if it is not treated, it could lead to suicide. In the document, it is stated that over “3,600 Canadians die by suicide every year, over 750 young people between the ages of 10-29 have committed to suicide every year” (Butler and Pang, 2014, pg. 3). Another crucial fact about suicide is that “90% of people of all ages who die by suicide were experiencing a mental health problem or illness” (Butler and Pang, 2014, pg. 4). From that, it is important that if you or others surrounding you are experiencing a mental health problem, there are many sources that can provide help for you. We want to prevent suicide in the future.

Mental Health vs. Mental Problem vs. Mental Illness

Mental health, mental problem, and mental illness all have different meanings, however, the terms are often confused. Mental health is one’s mental state and it is how one thinks, feels, and acts (Tingle, n.d.). Mental health is important for all individuals and everyone benefits from improved mental health. However, a person can have poor mental health for periods of time but that does not necessarily mean they have a mental problem or illness (Tingle, n.d.). A mental problem is when someone feels sad or lonely as a result of an event or situation. For instance, someone may be feeling sad and lonely because of divorce (Tingle, n.d.). This would be a mental problem because it is typically a temporary problem and there is no brain abnormality (Casarella, 2020). The symptoms of a mental problem may mimic a mental illness, however, it is not (Tingle, n.d.). A mental problem can be treated with psychotherapy which is a psychotherapist who explores the patient’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviours as a way of improving the patient’s well-being (Casarella, 2020). Thus, a mental illness is a diagnosis that affects the way one thinks, feels and acts (Tingle, n.d.). In patients with a mental illness, there is typically a brain abnormality (Casarella, 2020). Some common mental illnesses include depression, generalised anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Many mental illnesses can be treated with psychotherapy and medication (Casarella, 2020). To summarise, it is important to understand the differences between the terms mental health, mental problem, and mental illness and to look for signs and symptoms of these among youth.

How the School Community Can Help to Promote Mental Health

The school community can greatly contribute to promoting mental health in youth. One way that this can be done is through guest speakers (Weatherbee, 2020). If teachers implement guest speakers into their classrooms, they can have members of the school community come and discuss important topics regarding mental health, mental health problems, and mental illnesses (Weatherbee, 2020). Guest speakers can also discuss mental health awareness, signs and symptoms of a mental illness, and how you can seek help if you or someone you know is struggling with mental health problems. This can help to promote mental health and the importance of it (Weatherbee, 2020). Another way that the school community can help to promote mental health is by having a therapist or child psychologist come to the school on a weekly or monthly basis and students can schedule an appointment with them (throughout the school day) to talk about their mental health (Weatherbee, 2020). This can benefit many students including those with financial limitations. Therefore, using members of the school community is an effective way to promote mental health and there are many ways that a teacher can involve the community (Weatherbee, 2020).

Another way that schools can help promote mental health is by implementing a school-based mental health program. This program is multi-tiered and starts with screening all students and having preventative skills training (Weatherbee, 2020). This means that all students are screened for mental problems and mental illnesses, not only at-risk students. The next step is knowing the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses and looking for those in students. This can help to reduce and prevent mental illnesses among students (Weatherbee, 2020). Another step is having resources available for at-risk students, such as community support and referrals to mental health centres and private referrals (Weatherbee, 2020). This can help students who have been diagnosed with a mental problem or illness. The next steps are having community support groups and events which also supports students who have been diagnosed with a mental problem or illness. By implementing this approach into schools, it has been proven to significantly improve mental health, reduce the number of mental illnesses in youth, and educate the youth about the importance of mental health (Weatherbee, 2020).

Promoting Mental Well Being

The promotion of mental well being is essential in and out of the classroom. Students can visibly see and feel how promotions of mental well being aid in all aspects of life. Hymel et al., (2017) stated that, “the Mental Health Commission of Canada identified child and youth mental health as a priority for the transformation of mental health systems in Canada” and “each year, one in five Canadians experience some form of mental health or addictions problem.” Here is evidence in which promoting mental well being is vital to the fundamental development of young students. It is noted that social and emotional learning (SEL) is noted as being a critical role in the promotion of positive mental well being in school classrooms (Hymel et al., 2017). Including SEL in course content material that is taught to my students is essential to the promotion of mental well being. Educators who teach these SEL skills and administrators who support their educators, create supportive learning environments for students that require additional time, training, tools, and funding; and this systemic promotional change involves all stakeholders, which includes parents (Hymel et al., 2017). It is believed that integrating SEL allows a push for the right direction in regards to promoting mental well being.

Examples of how I plan to integrate SEL throughout the day to promote mental well being includes:

  • Checking in with students
  • Having vocal teachable moments
  • A plethora of partner and group activities
  • Promoting group collaboration
  • Pulling inspiration from a reliable SEL curriculum
  • Promoting and creating a culture of kindness

Modeling Positive Mental Health

Modeling positive mental health for students in the classroom is absolutely essential for students to have a model or figure to reference, get inspired by and even look up to as a reference to positive mental health. Systematic integration of positive psychology interventions (PPIs) in mental healthcare have the ability to contribute to the decrease of dysfunctional processes underlying mental illness (Bohlmeijer & Westerhof, 2021). PPIs have several pathways with various outcomes for mental health, meaning everyone’s individual journey will vary.

Some examples of evidence-based PPIs are:

  • Savouring
  • Gratitude
  • Kindness
  • Optimism
  • Promoting positive relationships
  • Pursuing meaning

(Bohlmeijer & Westerhof, 2021).

There are many ways in which modeling+ positive mental health to students is received. Everyone handles their mental health differently, which is why it is crucial for students to have a model to learn from. Bohlmeijer & Westerhof (2021) state that “gratitude has been defined as both a positive effect resulting from the perception of receiving a benefit from another person and a trait.” This includes outlining as an educator how to appreciate the smaller aspects of life, sense of abundance and experience, as well as express gratitude freely toward others (Bohlmeijer & Westerhof, 2021). If an educator models gratitude towards students they will then practice the same and are more motivated to do so if there is a form of positive reinforcement instilled.

This figure represents a model of sustainable mental health
Sustainable Mental Health (Bohlmeijer & Westerhof, 2021)

What to do if You Suspect You Have a Student With Mental Illness

Community support in respect to mental illness prevention, aid, and prioritisation is a reform that was needed years ago, and should be implemented through education and resources. This agenda begins small-scale and one-on-one; specifically, the interactions we have with one another. Individuals with mental illness typically experience stigma potentially in multi-faceted ways, which often has a significant impact on their betterment (Pitre, et al., 2007). Most anti-stigma outreach programs guide their resources towards older adolescents and adults, so finding developmentally appropriate practices related to addressing mental illness can be challenging, and often controversial. Within the Pitre, et al. (2007) study, they aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of puppet shows that touch on hard-to-talk-about topics, specifically mental illness representation. Misinformation and radicalization of mental illness within media often went unrecognised for many decades, but in recent years social media and films are aiming to undo the negative connotations through accurate representation. With this, it is vital to address tough topics such as mental illness at young ages- if they are old enough to view stigma broadcasted, children are old enough to be taught proper details. Groups of grade 3-6 students observed 3 separate puppet performances conveying individuals with schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, depression, and dementia (Pitre, et al., 2007). The representation was designed to tackle stereotypes and inaccurate radicalization of mental disorders in a developmentally appropriate way (Pitre, et al., 2007). Students who observed and absorbed the information presented to them saw a general effectiveness and should be further studied in hopes of strengthening and implementing within the school curriculum (Pitre, et al., 2007). “Hard conversations” within a school setting should be normalised, as stigma is learnt. In recognizing mental illness within a classroom of students, proper information is set like a boundary early on. This way, students that I suspect have mental health issues are not perceived as unbalanced or of less. Proactivity is both necessary and vital when it comes to social-emotional learning communication.

How to Support Students who Have Been Diagnosed with Mental Illness

Based on the statistics, it is highly probable that educators will face students who are diagnosed or struggling with a mental illness. These students may struggle with regulating their moods, thoughts, and behaviours which may require extra support and accommodations (Korinek, 2020). Collaborating alongside students, parents, and counsellors, educators can take necessary steps to improve the overall wellbeing of all students and put necessary accommodations into place for students who are diagnosed with a mental illness (Korinek, 2020). This can be done through several strategies that support students’ necessary accommodations through changing the environment, creating healthy relationships, and skill-building (Korinek, 2020).

Providing a Safe and Supportive Learning Environment

Students may have difficulty thriving academically if they do not feel secure, therefore, educators must create positive environments where students feel comfortable and safe (Korinek, 2020).

Providing Physical Arrangements

Supportive and positive classroom environments can be determined based on the physical arrangements of the classroom (Korinek, 2020). This can include seating arrangements and traffic patterns that allow for less distractions, easy mobility, active supervision by the teacher and easy access to all materials (Korinek, 2020). Additionally, including spaces for individual storage for personal items allow students to have a sense of belonging and order within the classroom (Korinek, 2020). Finally, including a space where students are able to take a break and focus on drawing, reading, music, and fidgets, may give the students a safe space to calm down and relax (Korinek, 2020).

Providing Clear Expectations

Students may perform better academically and behaviourally when provided with clear goals, routines, and expectations (Korinek, 2020). This can be done by setting classroom expectations at the beginning of the year, and maintaining these practices throughout (Korinek, 2020). Additionally, providing the students with the daily classroom schedule will help them know and understand what is coming next, this can create consistency within the classroom (Korinek, 2020). Consistency and clear expectations can reduce anxiety and stress for many students which can prove their overall performance at school (Korinek, 2020).

Providing Affirmation and Acknowledgements

Student encouragement to engage in desirable behaviours comes from the teacher acknowledging and reinforcing students’ positive behaviours, efforts, and achievements (Korinek, 2020).

Providing Voice and Choice

Providing voice and choice is a way to allow students to feel like they have control over their learning and choices within the classroom, which aids students who feel like they have little to no control outside of the classroom (Korinek, 2020). This can be done through providing choices for how they can demonstrate their learning and allowing them to choose how they want to complete the assignment (ex. Independent or partner work) (Korinek, 2020).

To accommodate students with mental illness, we must support them and the best way to do that is to provide a safe and supportive classroom that allows the students to succeed academically, socially, and emotionally (Korinek, 2020). This can be done through providing choices, changing the physical environment, fostering positive relationships, and providing clear structure and routine.


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Classroom Practice in 2022 Copyright © 2022 by Dr. Catherine Vanner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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