How Teachers Can Better Help Students Who Are Struggling with Their Mental Health

Educators don’t just teach kids. They serve almost as an extension of the family unit, helping to ensure that each child who enters their classroom leaves a little more capable and qualified for the adult life ahead of them.

Dealing with mental health struggles is not a direct extension of that responsibility. Schools have mental health professionals with significant training, there to help connect students with the resources they need.

Unfortunately, that division of labor won’t always cut it. Children are complete humans, even during their time in the classroom. Mental health issues can be a significant barrier to learning, which places them well within the domain of an educator’s concern.

In this article, we look at how teachers can better help students who are struggling with their mental health.

Recognizing the Signs of Struggling Mental Health in Students

It’s not always easy to recognize the signs of serious mental health struggles. Kids often become withdrawn as they reach the age of 12-13. Their body changes. They change with it.

Teachers need to be on the lookout for symptoms of mental distress that go beyond typical developmental milestones. These symptoms can manifest in a wide range of ways. A very sudden change in behavior, mood, or academic performance.

A drop-off in attendance. Difficulties interacting with peers. The list goes on and on but the uniting theme is change. When you notice that your students are acting very differently— particularly for the worse— it’s something to take note of.

Many red flags can have benign explanations, but you never know unless you explore the issue further.

Creating a Supportive Classroom Environment

Teachers can also work on creating a classroom environment that actively supports students, even when they are not in the middle of a crisis. Many teachers are now focusing on adapting techniques that help students get in touch with their feelings.

For example, a teacher might have the student self-report how they are feeling at the beginning of the day— not as a way of interrogating them, but simply as a lighthearted sign-in activity.

People are often introduced to the idea of talking about their feelings at the same moment they begin to experience difficult ones. That can be a difficult transition to make. Establishing an open environment from the get-go makes it much easier to open up when things are difficult.

It also helps broaden your kids’ support system. They can be there for one another easier when they know and understand how their peers feel.

Effective Communication and Active Listening

Active listening is fundamental in supporting your student’s mental health. As an educator, you are a figure of trust and authority in your student’s lives. Encouraging them to share their thoughts, feelings, and concerns, only works when they trust you as a dependable place to bring their concerns.

Active listening involves non-judgemental communication that will make your students feel more comfortable sharing their feelings. It involves listening with your full attention and responding thoughtfully to what they say.

Your students should feel heard and understood after an interaction with you. Not only will this serve as a significant source of relief for kids struggling with their mental health, but it will also establish you as a credible source of support within the school.

Implementing Mental Health Resources and Services

This is probably the most important step that teachers can take when it comes to nurturing their students’ mental health. If you are only going to focus on one consideration included here, it should be this one.

Providing access to mental health resources and services is a public school obligation in most states. Even if there aren’t counselors in your building, there should be some working within the district. Even very small school districts that lack full-time mental health professionals should have a working relationship with a privately owned third party.

When children display signs of significant emotional or mental distress, it’s important to refer them to the appropriate professionals. This won’t always be a popular decision. And yes— it may erode some of the student’s trust in you. We talked in the last heading about how important it is to be seen as a teacher kids can bring their problems to.

That’s true. However, it’s even more important to make sure that your students get appropriate help and support when the situation goes beyond your expertise.

Encouraging Self-Care and Resilience in Students

Equipping your students with the skills needed for self-care and general resilience are, of course, inadequate in the face of ongoing mental health struggles. Professional help, and possibly medication are the only appropriate responses for some disorders.

That said, giving kids the tools they need to manage stress and just take care of their needs can have a big impact on their overall quality of life. Many teachers will now weave tiny but effective meditation or mindfulness exercises in the classroom. These can be effective ways to get kids in a productive mindset. They can also be very effective in helping your students deal with challenging feelings as they arise.


Note that most of the recommendations included in this article do not apply only to children who are struggling. The attitude around physical health is all about being proactive. You are supposed to eat healthy and exercise to avoid major health problems.

Mental health considerations, on the other hand, or often reactive. People are only told to worry about them when an incident has occurred.

Active listening, mindfulness, and openness are tools that all of your students will benefit from, even when things are going well.

It’s also important to recognize that some kids will experience mental or emotional struggles even when they don’t have a specific disorder. For example, kids on the LGBTQ spectrum often experience higher levels of stress and anxiety during school as they struggle for acceptance.

You undoubtedly will come across students who need a little bit more help than that. As a teacher, your job is to recognize those situations and respond appropriately. However, you’ll also find that all of your kids benefit from, and will deeply appreciate a supportive classroom environment.