Mental Health Crisis Facing US Teens Puts Strain on Teachers
Currently, the younger U.S. population is in mental turmoil. Teachers are being called upon to take action and train in mental health to be able to respond to those showing signs of mental emergencies
Now, Teachers Must Look for Signs of Mental Danger
Legislation is now being looked at to support teacher training in behavioral health, which may save lives. A few years into the pandemic, experts are now more forcefully warning of a mental health crisis among teenagers and U.S. youth.
So far this year, mental health issues have played out in schools across the U.S., with spiking levels of depression, panic attacks, eating disorders, suicide, fights, and anxiety seen in all schools in all states. The current shortage of teachers and mental health professionals has made this crisis even more acute.
As The Guardian states, “Despite being the people pupils turn to most often when in distress, teachers are hampered in their desire to help by the profession’s widespread lack of training in tackling mental ill-health… Children’s burgeoning health needs are not currently being met by the health sector. Schools and teachers provide vital support but they are buckling under the strain of the demands placed on them.”
With This, Teachers are Called Upon to Assist
A growing number of teachers have begun enrolling in mental first aid courses to be able to spot warning signs of teenage substance abuse and help prevent suicide among the youth in schools. Education departments are accelerating their moves to take courses and supportive measures available to teachers.
As Science Direct states, “There is a growing expectation that school teachers should act as educators by delivering the national curriculum and be more involved as tier one mental health professionals. In this role, they are expected to assume some responsibility in the early identification of children’s mental health problems and refer them for appropriate support as required by the National Health Service and the Health Advisory Service.”
Training programs operated by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing are also, hopefully, going to be made available in every state in the U.S. Furthermore, a bill is soon to be passed that will require 75% of all employees in school to be trained in behavioral health.
According to news reports, “Experts say while childhood depression and anxiety had been on the rise for years, the pandemic’s unrelenting stress and grief amplified the problems, particularly for those already experiencing mental health issues who were cut off from counselors and other school resources during distance learning.”
Teachers are also being called upon to show more empathy to children, while others are being called upon to undergo mandated teacher training on suicide prevention. More psychologists and counselors are being called into schools in all states on a national level.
Not a ‘New Normal’ for Schoolchildren
While much of the U.S. is getting back to a ‘new-normal’ thanks to strategies placed by the Biden administration, the same cannot be said about schools and those youngsters getting back into school life.
As reported in the news, “Returning to school after months of isolation intensified the anxiety for some children. Teachers say students have greater difficulty focusing, concentrating, and sitting still, and many need to relearn how to socialize and resolve conflicts face-to-face after prolonged immersion in screens. Kids expected to pick up where they left off, but some found friendships, and their ability to cope with social stress, had changed.”
With this, it is important for teachers to
- Look for changing behavior: looking unkempt, stopping a school activity, plummeting grades, inability to hand in homework, eating lunch alone, no longer playing with friends.
- Ask the student without pressuring or casting judgment
- Let the child know you care and want to help
The World Health Organization hopes that every teacher will soon be able to:
- Describe the important roles that teachers, school staff, and parents play in children’s mental health using the social-ecological model (SEM).
- Define a school that is responsive to children’s mental health needs, regardless of context, including promoting healthy and prosocial behaviors.
- Identify common manifestations of psychological, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and developmental problems, including issues associated with students’ exposure to electronic media (screen time, internet addiction, and cyberbullying), bullying, suicide, and substance use.
- Identify age-appropriate cognitive, behavioral, and socio-ecological interventions that can be implemented for these psychological, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and developmental problems in school settings.
- Acquire the skills to implement the identified age-appropriate cognitive, behavioral, and socio-ecological interventions for psychological, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and developmental problems in school settings.
- Recognize when to refer a student to a mental health professional.
Overall, all countries in the U.S. should offer mental health training to teachers and further support for staff to share the challenges they face when helping their students who are suffering from mental health issues.
Parents can also support school policies and procedures that are to be followed when a child in school faces mental health conditions. A collaborative effort in the nation will help children affected by mental health issues and teachers affected by escalating levels of COVID-caused mental health problems.