It is part of adolescence to spend time thinking and reflecting about the self and one's place in the wider world, but is it the role of the teacher to open discussion with potentially vulnerable students? This article explores suitable class activities for Mental Health Month.
Adolescent Mental Health
We know that adolescence is a time of change. Young people move from being influenced primarily by family to becoming highly susceptible to peer group influences. As young bodies change over time, so too are young minds. Adolescence is a time when some young people find they begin to experience mental illnesses in various forms. This can be a minor issue which is easily dealt with through communication, strong support from family and friends, and professional assistance. For some young people, mental health problems can be a more serious problem. Depression, bipolar disorder and eating problems can become more prevalent in this age group than at other life stages. May is National Mental Health Month, and it provides the perfect opportunity to explore some proactive measures with your students.
The Role of the Teacher
The role of the teacher crosses several parameters when it comes to supporting young people both in the classroom and in the wider school community. Teachers need to develop skills at:
- observation - noting when there are signs which could indicate a mental health problem (change in mood, change in behavior, inappropriate actions or language, frequent absences, unexpected changes to grades)
- support - offering advice, encouragement and support within the bounds of teacher skills
- professional liaison - working with mental health professionals, counselors, guidance officers, doctors, nurses, families
- referrals - sharing concerns with professionals and families as appropriate, referring young people directly to a support service
- communication - keeping communication channels open
- appropriate class activities - choosing class activities which are designed to support, educate and encourage students to be aware of mental health and to have suitable strategies for dealing with issues in themselves and others
Some suitable class activities could include:
- an introduction to the history of Mental Health Month
- discussions about what mental health means
- inviting a speaker from a mental health support service to talk to students
- creating a class web page about mental health
- including comments about mental health as part of the everyday conversations of the classroom
- including examples of people from a range of skills, abilities, backgrounds, cultures and socio-economic groups in general discussions
- considering the mental health of people from refugee or asylum seeker backgrounds
As a teacher, consider the role literature can play in managing mental health for young people. Literature can support young people by providing role models for dealing with issues and problems, and for building awareness that others have experienced similar feelings and issues. For example, 'Someday this pain will be useful to you' (Peter Cameron, Scribe Publications, 2007) explores the thinking and inner reflections of the confused and disturbed James Sveck as he plans his life post school. Although the book does not openly identify his mental health issues, it does consider carefully his mood, behavior and the role of his family and friends in supporting or hindering his gradual mental health progress toward finding a more balanced and harmonious view of the world and his own place within it. Books such as this one are a useful and gentle starting point for discussing mental health with young people in a class situation, and Mental Health Month provides the perfect springboard.
- Written from teacher experience.